I have to admit that, at my age, I've gotten used to hearing that someone has died. When I saw the headlines that Robin Williams had died, my reaction was "Damn, that's too bad. Hope it wasn't a lingering, painful illness...still, he wasn't that old..." but I wasn't too shook up over the news - I filed it under "shit happens to everyone, eventually - some sooner than others...".
When I heard how it had happened, however, things got dark, fairly quickly.
Now I admit, being the diligent movie-watcher that I am (your sarcasm detector should be going off like mad....) I have not seen any of his movies. I remember him from his HBO specials (yeah, that long ago...) and just random clips of him on different occasions. Hardly enough to have formed an opinion of someone, but on the other hand, I don't remember him playing a role - a scripted persona that he was trying to portray. I remember him....being himself. His manic energy and the ability to pull from very disparate sources and synthesize something on the fly was amazing to me. (Well, that and the damned voices...) Yet, one thing I remember is that, even when he was parodying someone, it was never mean-spirited, for just as often as he lampooned someone else, he poked fun at himself. He just seemed so full of life, warmth and humor.
So, like everyone else, I was left going "How the fuck did this happen?".
I was dimly aware of his substance-abusing past, but wrote it off to "Hey, it was the '80's..." I thought he, like many of his contemporaries, had put that behind him. Not being too into Hollywood gossip. I wasn't aware of his struggles with Winston Churchill's "black dog". In retrospect, it makes sense, I guess, for he was not the first (and sadly, won't be the last) to suffer the dichotomy of creativity/depression. I've often wondered why the two seem to be inextricably linked.
How can a person who has everything -fame, fortune, friends, family and a seeming joyous outlook on life- take the plunge off the abyss?
Maybe in humor, he found a way to hide his darkness, or perhaps, knowing what that blackness was like, he sought to provide joy to others that they would be spared that pain.
I've heard so many stories of his generosity -from being personable and gracious about autographs to the bicycle pizza delivery guy he quietly bought a new bike for* to picking up the tab for the medical bills that Christopher Reeve's insurance wouldn't cover. Maybe he gave so much to others that he had nothing left for himself? With empathic and generous people when more people ask more of you, rather than shortchange someone else, you reduce your own share.
The only good I can see coming from this is that -at least for a few minutes- people are talking about depression, people are talking about suicide. The American people's attention span being what it is, I don't see this lasting....
Many, many people have walked to that cliff and looked over the edge, but walked away instead of taking that last step. Even among people who eventually do, there have been many times where they turned away from the edge. If we could only figure out what makes us turn around and go back to the light, we'd have taken a huge step toward understanding this affliction and how to combat it.
* He happened to be in a bike shop when a guy brought his bike in for a repair. They struck up an conversation and Robin commended the guy for all his hard work. When the guy went back to pick his repair up, there was a brand new bike and a note from Robin.