There have been speeches both longer and shorter, more and less rehearsed, but there has only been one speech where Robin Williams accepted an Academy Award. And now, there will only ever be one.
In 1998, after three nominations, Williams clinched an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “Good Will Hunting.” He was the well-known, respected actor who anchored a movie written by and starring two total newcomers, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Now, a decade and a half later, Damon is a blockbuster centerpiece himself, Affleck is pulling on Batman’s cowl, and Williams is suddenly gone, three things that never occurred to anyone to think about that winter night years ago when Williams tearfully accepted his statue.
In light of Williams’ sudden death yesterday, it’s not only a fitting occasion to revisit Williams’ jubilant Oscar speech, but our memories of his work. The full text of his acceptance, short and very sweet, is below.
“Oh, man. This might be the one time I’m speechless. Oh, thank you so much for this incredible honor, thank you for putting me in a category with these four extraordinary men. Thank you Ben and Matt, I still want to see some ID. Thank you Gus Van Sant for being so subtle you’re almost subliminal. I want to thank the cast and crew, especially the people of South Boston, you’re a can of corn, you’re the best. I want to thank the Mishpucka Weinstein, mazel tov! And I want to thank Marsha for being the woman who lights my soul on fire every morning, God bless you. And most of all I want to thank my father up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor he said wonderful, just have a backup profession, like welding. Thank you, God bless you.”
I’m not the only person who’s a fan of “Good Will Hunting” by any measure, but the movie certainly marked a sea change in my movie-watching life. I was 10 years old when my mom, brother and I rented it from Hollywood Video after asking the clerk what the best new movie was. He warned that “every other word” was an f-bomb, nervously eyeing me up, but we rented it anyway. The part about the cursing was true, but it was also the first adult drama I really latched onto, and the one of the first adult characters I cared about.
Williams’ Sean Maguire was flawed and complete, understanding but not soft by any measure. He wasn’t the tender, cooing adult role model presented in most movies and shows geared toward kids. He wasn’t just An Adult, he was a human being who could understand, but wasn’t always nice.
It’s a shame that Williams will never be able to stand before us and accept another statue, will never walk down the street and surprise us with the wit and wisdom and kindness that so many have shared in their stories over the last day. We will never get another of his flawed, touching portrayals of an adult man trying to solve a problem, even if that problem is an angry kid fenced in by his own mind.
But at least we got “Good Will Hunting,” and that’s something to be thankful for.