I was just a kid and a huge fan of the show Happy Days, never missing the show so my friends and I could all talk about it the next day at school. All these years later I remember the night I met Robin Williams when he appeared for the first time as Mork from Ork, leading to the spin-off Mork and Mindy and a resume of credits beyond what any one person could ever reasonably expect.
I, like many of you, thought the rumor of the comedian’s death a hoax and nothing more. Maybe it was because I just didn’t want to believe it, but all it took was one dependable source reporting his suicide, by hanging no less, and I knew it was true.
I wasn’t happy about it, obviously, but I found I wasn’t surprised. I’m not even going to point out how obviously morbid that sounds, but I don’t want you to think I’m being callous about it in the least. Far from it.
Depression is a serious illness and except for the overabundance of prescription drug commercials on television, it isn’t a subject that’s ever a serious topic of conversation for the general public. Despite what Julia Sugarbaker might have said so eloquently on Designing Women, Southerners don’t really put our crazy on the porch for everyone to see, just the ones we can call eccentric and not be called on it. But we can talk about that another day.
Creative personalities — artists, musicians, writers, entertainers, genius of all flavors really — always seem to have it the best but the reality is these are the very people who seem to be the saddest. It’s a personality trait, a genetic error, a balancing of positive and negative … call it whatever you want, but genius doesn’t come without a price.
Look at a list of those who seemed to be blessed with gifts the rest of the world envied and yet their lives ended in suicide, even the long drawn out over the years type at the end of a bottle or some other chemical dependency. Depression goes beyond being a disease or malady and becomes a way of life.
Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison in her famous work on the artistic mind and depression, An Unquiet Mind, may have said it best in describing what depression is and how suicide may seem the only solution to the mental pain and anguish:
“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.’”
The problem is, no one wants to discuss this serious condition until someone of Williams’ station is the victim and then only for a brief period, until the “I don’t understand” phase passes, then it’s business as usual.
Robin Williams was a genius, but he was also a man … feeling, deep, dark, emotional, and like the rest of us, in need. There are millions more like him you don’t know or will never see tell a joke and they are still here, for now at least, and need help, something you should all consider the next time you see the state or federal budget cut for mental health.
I’m going to miss Robin Williams, his madcap humor and ability to improvise better than any other from his generation, but those aren’t the roles I liked to see him play. It was the rare interview where the veil dropped and within the eyes you could see the fear and uncertainty he carried with him daily. That’s what spoke to me.
You will be missed, evoker of laughter, but if your suicide makes one person reach out to another who’s never done it before, maybe it will all be worth it and what most see as an inconceivable act on your part may take on a whole new importance.
So, from the rest of us, thank you for everything and may the Universe help you find peace.