Boulder came of age in the 1970s, solidifying its place among the United States’ most progressive, fascinating, and totally quirky cities. The city had become a home-away-from-Haight Ashbury for many in the hippie movement. Naropa, the private Buddhist university associated with Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac was established and, come 1978, an ultra wacky Boulder-based sitcom called “Mork and Mindy” would take the airwaves by storm.
“Mork and Mindy,” a show about a space alien who came to earth in an egg-like spacecraft and his roommate (who, together, resided at 1619 Pine Street in Boulder) not only gave Americans a taste of Colorado’s own oddball town, the show would launch the career of an equally off-the-wall icon, Robin Williams.
Williams’ brand of humor was manic, high energy, and satisfyingly exhausting to watch. He could be both charming and abrasive, and his jokes, while he never shied away from “taboo” or touchy issues, never denied anyone of their humanity. Such was the case for his number of classic gay jokes. Though occasionally playing to stereotypes, Williams clearly had nothing but love for the LGBT community. In fact, in 2011, Williams adopted a gay pug.
“I also have a gay rescue pug called Leonard,” he told the Irish Independent. “He has a boyfriend and they are planning to adopt a Siamese kitten together. We’re very modern.”
Williams, of course, also secured his place in gay iconography with his roles in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Birdcage.” For those who are painfully pop culture obtuse, Williams dressed up in drag in the former, and partnered up with Nathan Lane as both his lover and drag business co-owner in the latter. Those queer roles are tame by today’s standards, but in the early 1990s, when heterosexual America was still reeling from fear of the “plague-ridden homosexuals,” Williams was immensely bold to take them on. Those films showed men could have healthy, loving relationships — “Mrs. Doubtfire” featured Harvey Fierstein as Williams’ gay brother whose relationship with his partner is treated in a way that is affirming and pretty nonchalant — and that was a powerful message Williams’ diverse audiences needed.
In the summer of 2011, following the horrific slew of LGBT youth suicides the year before, Williams spoke at an event for the Trevor Project. Though the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that strives to help at-risk and suicidal LGBT young people, deals in serious issues, Williams kept the evening light.
“Same-sex marriage, way to go,” he joked with the crowd. “But married people already know it’s always the same sex, don’t they?”
And funny though he was that night, his appearance at the Trevor Project gala now feels bittersweet.
Williams’ death by suicide on August 11 is a stark reminder that depression and suicide do not discriminate. It is a disease … one that does not care if you’re gay or straight, rich or poor, well-loved or unknown. Suicide kills more people annually than car accidents, and a staggering one in four people will experience some form of mental health problem during their lifetime. For many who feel so lost, there is hope. There are many resources available to help those who need it.
And for those we have lost, like Robin Williams, there will always be fond memories.