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A comic genius – and a tragic loss

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Robin Williams died this week, and the world is a little more sane, a little more mature and considerably worse off in his absence.

It’s astonishing even to count the number of generations who could claim a special bond to Williams’ comic genius. He made his debut for many of us as Mork, an extraterrestrial madman from Planet Ork in a guest-star role on “Happy Days.” From there, his special brand of lunacy only seemed to skyrocket, creating hundreds of memorable characters that sometimes seemed to inhabit his stage performances all at once.

There were no sacred cows in Williams’ world, and millions of adults laughed, blushed and nodded our heads at his spoofs with decidedly PG-13 themes. But Williams’ bigger gift might have been his ability to reach kids – without patronizing them. The Genie in “Aladdin,” Mrs. Doubtfire, an overgrown Peter Pan and even President Theodore Roosevelt proved that great comedy knows no age limits. Only Bill Cosby rivaled his ability to tickle so many funny bones at once.

But not even a talent as giant as Williams’ could hide the bitter demons behind him.

His problems with substance abuse and depression have been documented almost as fully as his performances.

His apparent suicide feels cold and hollow. The man who could reach so many, it seems, could hardly be reached at all, in return, even by the millions of people left deeply saddened by his death.