Love them or hate them, entertainers hold a pivotal place in our society because they can touch us so deeply. I remember watching Robin Williams in “Mork and Mindy” and thinking he was uproariously funny. By the time I was a teenager, however, I found him kind of silly. I never actually paid to see any of his movies, watching them chiefly because someone else rented them.
For example, I watched “the Fisher King” on the campus movie channel when I was in college and I found deeply moving, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much today.
I was not surprised to hear he killed himself. Comedians are often deeply tormented individuals, driven to make jokes to hide their own anxieties and insecurities. They are often mean-spirited and vicious as well, and accounts of Johnny Carson do not speak well of his character. On camera he was a perfectly affable host – elsewhere, kind of a snake.
Like many people in show business, Williams was a liberal and he made merciless fun of those who disagreed with him politically. I would be one of those people, but I feel no particular animosity towards him and certainly don’t rejoice in his death. He brought a great deal of non-partisan joy to many people, and he had a family. Political differences should not cause us to lose track of our essential humanity.
When I heard the news, I immediately thought that he may have been upset over the cancellation of his tv show. It should have been a sure-fire hit, combining not only his star power but that of Sarah Michelle Gellar, who has a dedicated following of her own. That it was a flop likely caused him a great deal of personal pain.
This is because entertainers are often enslaved by their audience – they possess a limitless need to be loved by the crowd. No matter how many awards they win or how many great movies or shows they produce, there is always a deep insecurity within that denigrates their achievement.
This is especially acute in the electronic age, where people choose television and film as an occupation. The stars of Hollywood’s “golden age” were often people who did other things and were discovered. This gave them a stronger personality because it was rooted in a world outside pleasing people on stage or screen.
He had marriage problems and money problems. He frequently turned to drugs and alcohol – which is always a dangerous thing to do.
Suicide is not a hateful or selfish act, but one of desperation. It is the last act of defiance for someone who feels so trapped that all they can do is escape. Like the mortally-wounded soldier begging to be put out of his misery, people with deep depression can no longer see a way forward and long only for the agony to stop.
In our increasingly isolated age, it is a growing problem – particularly because we long for technological distractions rather than human contact.
From my personal experience, I believe most anti-depressants evil personified because they teach patients to think of depression as an outside force beyond their personal control. Similarly, calling depression a disease denies the patient any control over the condition.
I believe the ONLY way to defeat depression is to make the mental and emotional changes needed to get over it. Taking a pill – be it a prescription or illegal narcotic – doesn’t really help.
Robin Williams probably had many years left and could have brought joy to even more people. Would that he could have found the healing he sought and needed.
SPEAKING OF OLD HOLLYWOOD: Lauren Bacall lived life to the fullest. Hers was a generation that knew getting paid to talk was a great gig and they were deeply grateful for what they got. I will note that Don Rickles is still alive and still working. Even the aforementioned Johnny Carson lived to a ripe old age.
What was it about them that the new generations lack? Will we be even less resilient than the Baby Boomers?