SÃO PAULO — Robin Williams, who died on Monday aged 63, wasn’t just loved in America, the UK and the rest of the English-speaking world. His genre-defying performances were adored worldwide, and Brazil is no exception.
Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire — whose local title, Uma babá quase perfeita, translates as An Almost-Perfect Nanny — were particular hits here.
Many in Brazil have mourned his passing with genuine outpouring of emotions, and heaped unending praise on the energetic funnyman.
Some have drawn parallels with the recent death of a Brazil comedian, and others called for more support for those suffering from depression and related illnesses.
Famous Brazilian vlogger Felipe Neto, who also suffered from depression, tried again to draw Brazilians’ attention to what he feels is a very poorly understood topic locally.
He also dedicated his daily vlog to Williams:
But not all the coverage has been positive.
Some are choosing to remember Robin Williams as someone who made an off-colour jibe at Brazil’s winning bid to host the 2016 Olympics on a US talkshow, joking that Rio de Janeiro had won as it had sent “fifty strippers and a pound of blow [cocaine]” to secure the bid.
Williams quipped that his hometown, Chicago, which had also bid to host the Games, had only managed to muster “Oprah and Michelle [Obama],” in what was at most a minor case of sour grapes, and probably just a cheap gag.
The joke took just a few seconds to execute, but some took it as an attack and this moment has been indelibly tainted some Brazilians’ view of him, to be wheeled out after news of his death broke.
“Williams made jokes at Brazil’s expense” reads a piece on the G1 news portal set next to a more reflective article on Williams’s much-cherished career.
And while it is natural that Brazilian media would try to find a link to regionalise what is an pretty international story and make it relevant to their viewers, listeners and readers, this seems like a big of a low blow.
Of course, the joke itself was a low swipe at Brazil, but why did it sting so much?
Probably because Brazil has long battled to rid drugs and sex from its international image, which it is trying to improve on many fronts.
Something similar happened when Adidas made some pretty sexualised Brazil T-shirts ahead of the World Cup: the company was shouted down until it withdrew the merchandise.
While the joke was, of course, in bad taste – he didn’t single Brazil out over time. Everyone got it: from Arnold Schwarzenegger to the British Royal family. He was a comedian and that’s just what they do.
Perhaps I am being overly defensive as he was such a big chunk of my childhood, but I think it’s time to let it go.