According to various sources, Robin Williams is dead. The coroner suspects “suicide due to asphyxia.” I must admit to being shocked. It isn’t that I’m naive and think that any actor’s public face is who they really are. But Williams’ antics here in Sonoma and Marin were legend. So I always took him to be a narcissist who might well kill himself accidentally, but not on purpose. But according to his publicist, “He has been battling severe depression of late.”
So it is sad, as it always is when anyone feels the need to hurry death along. But I was wondering about it. I totally understand why someone in chronic physical pain would rationally decide to kill themselves. I guess the reason I don’t feel the same way about depression or, more generally, psychic pain is that it seems transitory. But I think that may be a bit of an assumption. It is certainly true of me, but then, my manic-depressive cycle is well known to me. But it remains hard to believe that there was not much joy left to Williams had he managed past this current crisis. But I wouldn’t presume to know for my own friends and family members, much less for a man I don’t know in the least.
As for what I do know—his work—I’m not especially a fan, but I admired him. I’ve always thought his acting was a good demonstration that comedy was the hardest thing to do, because he was a fine dramatic actor. I never really watched him on Mork & Mindy, but I thought his stand-up comedy was fantastic. I first noticed him as an actor in The World According to Garp, where I thought he had a wonderful Cary Grant type of likability. Then there was Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. And that reminds me that I’ve been meaning to watch The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, so I guess I’ll watch it tonight. [Update: Will tells me they also really like Patch Adams and Awakenings. -FM]
My friend Will is especially bummed out. For one thing, Williams is probably the favorite actor of Will’s whole family. I know that they are very fond of Hook and Toys. But more than that, Will had this dream of Williams some day getting into politics and becoming president. Stranger things have happened. Unless, it would be stranger to have a fine actor become president than a mediocre one. Will also has a special fondness for local things, and I think he was taken with the fact that Williams decided to make the north bay his home.
I find it interesting that Robin Williams starred in the video for Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Now, I’ve always found the song kind of offensive. The last thing you should ever tell and anxious or depressed person is to “be happy!” That’s not to say that it isn’t good advice—just that it is frustratingly useless. “It will soon pass, whatever it is.” But it does seem like an ironic comment on Williams’ death. Maybe it would have passed, maybe it wouldn’t have. But it is over now and he is at peace. And we are the poorer than we would have been, but the richer because he had been.
For the record, I do think people who die are at peace. The statement is a cliche, but I’m being serious. What is wonderful and terrible about life is its conflict. I do see death as a reward for life, and life as a gift.