I lost yet another hero yesterday.
Robin Williams was responsible for 90% of the belly laughing I did as a child, and the other 10% just goes to my dad doing Mrs. Doubtfire impressions. My two favorite movies in the world are Good Will Hunting and Hook. I could quote you all of Mrs. Doubtfire right now, and yes I am including the part in the opening credits where he goes off-script doing the voice of that cartoon bird (Nooo Pudgy, doooon’t smooooke). Do not ask me how many times I’ve seen The Birdcage or Dead Poets or Awakenings or Hook or, hell, Patch Adams. Sometimes when I’m in the car alone I blast “Never Had a Friend Like Me” just to be sure I remember every lyric in case a karaoke book finally has it. I know they’re not all perfect movies. I know Robin Williams was not a perfect man. I loved him anyway, so, so much. He was one of my first and strongest introductions to comedy and, more importantly, how to infuse it with so much heartfelt drama.
But this is not a post about me adoring Robin Williams to the point of weaving a bizarre string of his film references into the first script that got me any real attention (to which my managers said, “we have never seen this done, ever.” Still not sure if that was a compliment). This is a post about the very sad circumstances that likely lead to his death. To be clear, it is suspected but not confirmed that Robin Williams committed suicide, but he suffered from depression and addiction throughout his life so regardless, now is a time to honor that by focusing on the truths about those battles.
Over the coming days you may hear friends and family members say things like:
- “But he was so funny!”
- “But he was so successful, what did he have to be depressed about?”
- “Is everyone in Hollywood addicted to drugs?”
- “He had all the resources in the world, how could he not get help?”
- Or the oh-so-painful for his loved ones, “how did no one see this coming??”
Here is what you can say in response:
- You can be funny and deeply depressed. They are not mutually exclusive.
- You can be successful and deeply depressed. Depression is a clinical condition, not a mood in response to life circumstance.
- Not everyone in Hollywood is a drug addict, but the unique pressures of the entertainment industry can challenge those with existing addiction problems.
- Depression and addiction are very solitary afflictions that leave someone unmotivated to help themselves.
- And finally, that is as impossible a question to answer as, “is my loved one going to commit suicide today?”
But instead of dwelling on these questions I vote to honor one of the greatest roles of Robin’s life by remembering a quote that speaks to the most important thing about his struggle – it’s not your fault.
When I first saw Good Will Hunting I was wildly uncomfortable with that scene. Why does he have to say it so many times? Why does he have to get so close? Can’t he tell that Will gets it? It’s all just so awkward. Now I think it might be the most poignant moment I’ve seen in a movie.
People need to hear, “it’s not your fault,” again and again and again from as close as they’re willing to let you get. When you think it’s your fault, you think you have to fix it alone. If it is your fault, you assume it can’t ever get better while you’re still you. Neither is true.
Robin Williams is a celebrity, and an important one, but people are fighting addiction and depression every day, everywhere. Let’s use this moment to re-educate ourselves on the issues, reach out those in need or tell someone we are hurting. Here are just a few resources that have helped people I know:
I think Robin would want us to think about all of that today instead of just Tweeting and Facebooking police reports and famous quotes. But I’ll also be spending some time remembering that the man was an absolute comedy genius who leaves behind an epic legacy. Here’s where I’ll start. How about you?