My breath escaped me for a moment as I, like the rest of the world, learned three days ago that Robin Williams had passed away. Even this morning as I read the tributes and painful good-byes from those who knew him well, I was having a difficult time comprehending how such a bright light could have possibly been extinguished so unexpectedly.
I met him many years ago on two occasions. Once in 1981 while he was filming The World According to Garp on Fishers Island, New York and again in 1982 at the Hollywood Bowl after the Monty Python Live show. He and his wife at the time were sitting at our table. He was hyper, hilarious, really sweet and somewhat shy. He was just coming off of the successful series, Mork & Mindy and beginning his impressive film career. Back stage after the Python show, Williams’ wife told me that he was nervous and overwhelmed by the celebrities in the room, many whose fame he ended up surpassing many times over.
It’s true, he could make us laugh, but as we saw in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting” Williams’ performance as Dr. Sean Maguire, a therapist struggling with the death of his wife, he could also move us to tears. The range of his talent was incredible and inspiriting.
He was aging well, mellowing in a nice way but retaining what was his trademark, the quick and brilliant improvisational skills to end all. His 1992 riff as Genie in Aladdin was epic and introduced him to a new generation.
What seems to be so difficult for many of us to understand is how someone who brought us such laughter, could have been so desperately sad that he chose to take his life. I’ve been depressed but never suffered from clinical depression, however, a number of people whom I love dearly, do suffer from this disease and I have seen it up close and very personal.
Williams’ suicide has not only brought depression to the forefront of the media but also opened up painful wounds for many who live on a similar slippery slope of mental illness.
When I hear a word such as “coward” being used to describe a person who has ended their life, I realize how far we still have to go in terms of understanding depression and suicide.
I once talked with a friend who was sitting on the symbolic ledge of suicide, I heard the grave, almost flat-lined tone in that person’s voice. In their mind, leaving this world and the excruciating pain they were in, made complete sense. In that particular situation, convincing that person to just think it over for one more day before taking action was enough time to get through the immediate crisis and to get professional help.
Unless one has personally sat on the edge of that dark abyss or is a professional who is experienced in dealing with such matters, I believe it’s best to stay away from judgment or speculation.
How many times Robin Williams had me laughing uncontrollably or brushing tears from my face are too many to count but I do know he brought the gift of joy to my life and for that I am forever grateful.
I wish peace and love to Robin on his journey and to his family during this difficult time.
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