We don’t cry for the dead. We cry for the living. Specifically, we cry for ourselves. John Belushi, Jim Henson, Madeleine Kahn, George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams… They made me happy, made me think, opened my mind to other perspectives, and taught me things I didn’t know I was learning, all while making it all look easy. I never met any of them, in person, but felt a bond or kinship with each of them, nonetheless. They were more than entertainers on a TV screen, they were exceptionally funny and clever entertainers whose influence directly contributed to the adult I am today. Their deaths were painful. Yes, we can watch hours of recorded moments on YouTube, but – once they’re gone – there can never be another next moment. So, we cry.
At least, with entertainers, we have their bodies of work to honor their memory. With ordinary folks, like family and friends, we aren’t often so lucky. Maybe they wrote or recorded a few things. Maybe somebody took an old home movie, somebody else shot a short video. Mostly we’re left with a photo album or two and whatever images and stories we carry within us. Over time, even those disappear. It makes me wonder, then, what it is that we leave behind in this world. We work so hard to build things, raise children, touch lives, and leave a legacy. In the end, it’s not even up to us; the preservation of our memory ultimately lies with those we leave behind.
Every time I visit a House of Blues, I seek out the “altar to Jake” and down a shot with a friend. I never miss the opportunity to let a Muppet make me smile. Whether entertainers or ordinary folks, my heroes live on through me: I have my grandfather’s dedication to family; my mother’s words echo in my head and out my mouth almost every day. Every joke I share – every story I tell – keeps their legacies alive.
It’s up to you and me to preserve the memories of our heroes. Do them proud. Share the “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” with your friends and your children. Show them how they can entertain themselves for hours with nothing more than a box full of hats. Teach your girls it’s okay to be pretty AND smart AND funny AND talented AND still laugh at themselves. And teach your boys it’s okay to cry; some heroes are worth a few tears.
RIP, Robin Williams. I hope Jonathan was waiting for you on the other side … with a box of hats.