Robin and You

The first time you watched him, you didn’t even know it was him. You gaped while Ali Baba’s nemeses emerged from his nails and his head emerged from a plate of chicken. And when he and Aladdin (on whom you developed a little crush after a few years and several viewings) parted ways, you realised it was true: you’d never had a friend like him.

The second time you watched him, he was a woman. His jokes about his padded 38D chest offended your delicate, eight-year old sensibilities. You were too young to understand divorce but somewhere, in the middle of all that situational comedy, he managed to make you feel inexplicably sad.

The third time you watched him, you weren’t impressed. No one but Disney deserves Peter Pan, you thought.

The fourth time you watched him, his manic whooping freaked you out a little. When the floorboards began to swallow him alive, you willed the annoying-even-back-then Kirsten Dunst to save him.

The fifth time you watched him, you fell in love. With poetry, with learning, with the movies, with him. When he cried head in hands for his student who had killed himself, you cried for your friend too.

The sixth time, when he put on a red nose for the terminal kids and read out that mushy poem for his dead girlfriend, you fought back the tears. Of course you’d become too cool to cry.

The seventh time, while he rattled off different voices faster than you could look up ‘Vietnam War’ on your Britannica CD ROM, it dawned on you that you were watching one of the greatest comedians of all time.

The eighth time, when he described art and love to a kid who was even more of a Smart Alec than you, it dawned on you that you were watching one of the greatest actors of all time. Period.

And now, many, many times later, he is gone. And it hits you that the actors who are dying are the ones you’ve grown up with, not just the Peter O’Tooles or Richard Harrises who were always so much closer to your parents. And as you bid goodbye to the hero of your past, to the quintessential sad clown with a painted smile, all that’s left to do is carpe diem, talk about you, find your verse.

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