By Ed Wallace – August 15, 2014
I’ve been thinking about Robin Williams all week, his life and how he died. His death was a complete shock. I can’t say I was a die-hard fan, especially of his R-Rated performances, but he did give me many hours of entertainment and laughter over the decades and I’ve always admired his humor, spontaneity and service. He continues to be one of my favorite performers. Most of the people I’ve talked with have difficulty comprehending how a person who brought so much happiness, joy and laughter to the world could be so unhappy? It’s so sad to see a man who gave so much through his charity work, comedy and acting, suffer as much as he did when he was alone. One would think that the love that flowed from him, his success and his brilliance, would be an outward manifestation of his happiness. We are confounded by the facts. Suicide is always a mystery.
We’ve learned that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and was not ready to reveal it to the world. Some have speculated that he had money problems due to alimony and the loss of his TV series, and was depressed about a recently failed movie. In the end, it was an illness that killed him. It is believed that he suffered not only from depression, but also from bipolar disorder and had extreme fluctuations of mania (productivity), focus and energy, and then severe depression. It is probable that he was in the down cycle of depression when he ended his life.
On most days, for those that suffer from this insidious disease, most people somehow manage to live and fight for one more day no matter how bleak things are. They usually endure. They usually choose life. But during the darkest times, when the mind and heart are in utmost despair, the simple act of remembering to breath, and taking yourself to the next moment, is an act of immense courage, faith and hope. Just a few moments of losing to depression can kill you. A bad day can easily turn into a lethal day. Sometimes, people listen to the lies that depression tells them and succumb to the desperate choice of suicide. In the end, it was the battle of the voices in Robin’s head, the angelic and brilliant voices, along with what he described as the quiet voices of his demons, the self-destructive thoughts, that killed him.
It is hard for someone who has never suffered from depression to understand the mystery surrounding it, and how consuming and profound it can be. Winston Churchill once described it as his constant companion, “the black dog.” In an essay by Dick Cavett, he described it as an authoritative booming in your head that repeats over and over that your life is meaningless and that your memories of happiness are a delusion. And you believe the voice because it is the only one you hear. It’s not just having the blues or being in a funk. It’s like living in a room with no light.
I believe that it is wrong to take your own life but he may not have been responsible for his own act. Only the Lord knows the details and can judge the circumstances. This is truly a tragedy, not only for Robin, but for all his friends and family who will now struggle for years with confusion, pain and difficult emotions. I find it troubling that people tend to define his disposition on life based on one last act and describe him as a selfish coward. We talk of him losing the battle with depression. This does not mean that his entire life was a loss or that he felt that life was a lost cause. Quite the contrary.
By all accounts, Robin was a decent and kind man, as well as being deeply thoughtful and sad. He was like a wild and manic wound-up toy that would trip over chairs, fall down and then walk into a wall and just keep on walking. One critic described him as “hyper beyond sanity.” He struggled and found life worth enduring for decades, even during the darkest times of mental illness and addition. His pain revealed itself in his manic and exuberant, genius improvisational art and performances that he mixed with vulnerability and desperate combustion. He struggled to show that hope endures and always strove for authenticity. He excelled in making tragedy humorous and bringing pathos to comedy.
Robin, and people like him, win each day over and over again. Most of us never question living or not living. People who suffer depression choose life and somehow manage to survive the cliffs that their minds continuously bring them to, without falling. Their continued choice of living shows what matters to them. Each day they choose their cause, family, friends or simply the next day. Every day is a choice to value what they have and to keep on giving.
Robin’s life was a mixture of joy and anguish, proving over and over again that the joy was worth enduring the anguish. His values and his attitude toward giving brought him great joy. Watch his movies again (G-PG13), and listen to his stand up comedy. It’s all right there. He was very generous with his time and charity work. He spread, preached and chose life, his whole life. He won and had a great life, by carrying the unbearable so well and for so long. He got through every day not only alive, but also sharing his joy and life worldwide.
For me, the media coverage of his death has centered on the evil and sickness in Robin’s life. On the other side, he committed himself to helping our active duty military and veterans, the homeless and countless other people and causes with an energy that was as intense as his heart was big. And, he did all of this while he struggled daily to help himself. He will continue to uplift our lives and make us laugh. It is an utter tragedy that he won’t be around to enjoy it with us, or that he wasn’t always able to enjoy it as much as he deserved while he was alive. The least grateful thing that we could do in return, for all he has given us, would be to repay him with a wrong judgment and verdict about his life. As for me, his suicide leads me to believe that he suffered deeply with his ability to make me laugh. I can envision him right now, up in Heaven, riffing on the comic aspects of this. It must be epic.
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