Robin Williams, RIP

Robin Williams 2011a

This is no good.

As with many people, I was a fan. First encountered him as Mork, was puzzled by him as Popeye, nearly peed myself listening to his comedy albums and concerts. His manic side made him famous but his melancholy was never too far from him. You couldn’t watch Moscow on the Hudson or Good Will Hunting or The Fisher King — a film that spoke to me particularly — without knowing that aspect of his personality was there. I read the stories of his early years, playing with army men up in the attic, lonely. I don’t know. Maybe some part of him never left that attic.

I know a lot of creative people and perhaps by correlation I know a lot of people who struggle with depression. They have told me (and they’ve told the world) how depression sits there, implacable, and drains the color out of the world until no success or joy matters. I believe them, and it becomes increasingly evident that no matter who you are or what you’ve achieved, depression is a good liar and it can make you believe none of it is worth the while.

I know and love too many people with depression to believe that it’s something that’s shameful to talk about or to acknowledge. I want them alive and I want them here with us. If you have depression I want you alive and here with us. Don’t let the moment take you. Don’t be afraid to get help. The people who love you want you here. Believe it.

That’s all I want to say about this at the moment.

63 thoughts on “Robin Williams, RIP

  1. As someone with depression, that’s what I always remind myself in my worst moments. If nothing else, it would hurt the people who love me.

  2. I suffered from chronic depression for years, from clear back in my early teens until probably last year, when the doctors finally said, “We don’t think you need those medications any longer.” So far, they’ve been right. I remember seeing a billboard in Lima, OH, that read, “You wouldn’t tell a friend, ‘It’s just cancer. Get over it.’, would you?” People have a strange viewpoint about depression, it’s NOT something simple…it’s extremely complex, it involves brain chemistry, and it’s not something you “just get over.”

  3. In many reviews of Robin Williams movies, it was often noted that Williams was not an outstanding actor per se, inasmuch his real-life personality seemed to strongly permeate through his characters (or even overtake them perhaps). In most of his movies, you could feel his great sensitivity but also his fragility and disquiet. King Fisher is also a movie I like very much, and like John says, you could feel that the anxiety of the character came from the actor himself.

    Still, few critics would argue his four Oscar nominations weren’t deserved. RIP and thank you for the memories.

  4. A thanks here, again, to those who have been there for me when I have been at my darkest. It’s been a long time since I was felt that broken, and it took a lot of help, both of the friend kind and of the paid-to-be-there kind. But those feelings are never truly that far away. Sometimes, having people to live for is all that you have, and sometimes, that gets screwed up into still not being enough. For those who fight, good luck. And for Mr. Williams, who was a tour-de-force of amazing that I doubt I’ll ever see the like of again: thank you for the joy, and the emotion, and the stories; rest well.

  5. His performance in Dead Poet’s Society was hugely important to be as a boy.

    When I was 13, I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and on opening night my father, who was also an actor, left me a note that said “Break a leg. Don’t kill yourself.” I’ve struggled with depression all my life, and that movie and that note come to mind a lot.

  6. Speechless, I reach for words and they do not come.

    Sadness, for the pain this means for his family, for the loss it means for all of us. But mostly for the pain he must have suffered.

    “Only in silence the word,
    Only in dark the light,
    Only in dying, Life;
    Bright the hawk’s flight
    On the empty sky.”

    – Song of Ea, Ursula K. LeGuin

  7. The thing that comes to mind for me is not so much his phenomenal comedy, but his role in “Awakenings”, and even more, Oliver Sacks’ description of working with him. First he followed Sacks around as he did rounds. Then he followed him around imitating him–uncannily well. Then he became a completely new person, neither himself nor Sacks, but the doctor he would be in the movie. Gave me chills just reading about it.

  8. As a depression sufferer, I can understand the despair and am saddened that he was swept away by it. If there was some way we could say, “Soandso, after a long fight with depression, succumbed to the disease”, the way we talk about cancer. The pain of depression can be indescribable for those who have never experienced it. May Robin Williams rest in peace and his family find comfort.

  9. And if anyone reading this is thinking “Nobody would miss me,” John would, and so would I. And I, after all, am the next to last samurai. The last samurai and I are lonely enough as it is. Please don’t make us lonelier. John cares, we care, stay with us.

  10. Thank you for the way in which you shared the news. Better than hearing it in some news burst on a commercial break.

    I almost lost a friend this month to depression. I am so, so glad she’s still here. I did lose someone to it over a year ago and it still feels like it was today. I’d like to echo your words to anyone fighting depression: I may not know you, but I want you alive and here with us too. Don’t give up on getting help.

  11. It’s so sad that as it seems he took his own life. I have battled depression and I find it feels like a darkness takes me over so I can’t see any good in myself or anything else until all there is left is sadness.

    I started this year in a bout of depression and sought help after a day when I literally couldn’t stop crying and I knew I couldn’t stop without help. I cried so much I dried my eyes out in the end and had to get eye drops.

    In the end cognitive behavioural therapy and some good friends who didn’t give up on me helped me beat it.

    I was so good at hiding it the people I live with had no idea I was getting treatment or was depressed.

    I know it’s always there in the back of my mind and I have to fight to keep it away. I don’t want to be the person who lets it win. There has been so much sadness in my life but I have to remain focussed in the positives and be true to what excitement the future holds.

    If you are ever feeling depressed talk to someone, anyone and ask for help from your GP. It is more common than you think and there are so many ways in which you can get help nowadays we don’t have to let it beat us.

  12. The range of human life…

    I’ve been blessed to have seen and received his energy since the earliest Mork days, and many of the movies mentioned. It’s very sad. And is a another reminder for me, from a person who gave innumerable reminders of the joy of life, that there is that other side of life also…

    May he rest in peace, and find his answers in that other world – with all my thanks….

  13. I cried in the car when I heard on the radio on the way home from groceries.
    I cried just inside the door at home when I told my wife and she held me tight and wouldn’t let me blow my nose.
    I am crying now.

  14. @fuzznose: I have a good and close friend who has suffered from clinical depression for at least two decades – and who tried to take his own life twice before I knew him – and for whom drugs do not work. (If they do anything for the depression, the side-effects make him so miserable in so many different ways as to cancel out any benefit.)

    He’s taken no meds (for the depression) for at least ten years now, and is still going strong despite health, family and sometimes employment issues.

    (This is NOT NOT NOT – I tell you three times, and what I tell you three times is true – an anti-med screed. For some people, they work: I have two close relatives for whom pharmaceuticals have been a god-send in restoring them to normal life. But some folks have to find other ways, whether from physiology or by inclination – speaking as someone who doesn’t like taking anything stronger than two aspirin – and it can still work, if you find the right means and methods for you.)

  15. My first reaction upon hearing the news was, I suppose, like a lot of others – shock. How could someone so vibrantly alive be stilled?

    I am saddened and hope that his family and friends can find some measure of comfort from the knowledge of how much joy his work had engendered.

  16. So sad. He was open about his struggles with bipolar disorder, and you could see it in his work – the manic highs as well as the sadness. May he find the peace he was never able to find in life. :(

  17. Of all of the celebrity deaths that I’ve mourned, this is one of the ones that hurts the most. I’ve been a fan since Mork, since I was 8 years old, and I’ve watched him for over 35 years now. His roles have touched me in so many ways, and have stayed with me, become some of my favorites.
    Oh Captain, my Captain, you will be sorely missed.
    “Fly, be free!”

  18. I say it every time a story like this hits the news. Depression is a cancer. It’s a cancer of the emotions and the soul, and it should be treated with the same openness, solemnity and respect-for-patient as cancer. You don’t lock a tumor away inside the body and hope it goes away if you ignore it long enough; that’s the fast track to metastasizing. Depression works the same way. It compounds in the silence and feeds on isolation.

    Mr. Williams was definitely one of a kind, and he would have been a man too young to die no matter what age he reached.

  19. I feel like someone has punched me in the gut.

    I can remember watching Mork and Mindy as a child and being delighted by the funny alien who started each show by saying Nanoo Nanoo and Shuzbut.

    Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Aladdin, Jumanji, The Bird Cage, Good Will Hunting, Death to Smoochy – they all have an important place in my youth.

  20. One of my friends found an excellent response to this:

    “Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”

    -Alan Moore, Watchmen

  21. I am so sad…how can such a brilliant light not know his tremendous influence. He brought so much joy to so many.

  22. I wish I could thank him for holding out as long as he did, given the pain he must have been in. I wish much more fervently that he could’ve been spared the pain.

    And to everyone who has written, saying that they have lived this struggle (and to everyone living it who hasn’t written), thank you for staying. You don’t know me and I never comment, but I’m glad you’re here with us.

  23. depression is a relentless fucking bastard. Don’t ever listen to a fucking bastard.

    Robin, thank you so much for sharing yourself. You will be missed.

  24. And so another jerkbrain wins another struggle.

    I know Robin didn’t go without a fight– a whole life of fighting, in fact. When your own brain is trying to kill you, the daily struggle makes Sisyphus look like a song & dance act.

    Our most powerful enemy is within.

    Sometimes it does win.

    Not for me, not today.

    If we can just say that, and mean it, every single fucking day…

    I am so sorry this light has gone out.

    Mine will NOT.

    Not this twenty-four hours.

  25. Thank you, all who have written here, for the words and support. I have struggled with bipolar depression for more than 15 years. Suicide has never been a consideration, but I understand looking out at years of bleakness stretching into the future and feeling like it never will change. This disease has eaten a huge hole in my life as it has in others’. I often compare it to having diabetes. It can be treated, but I will need to take meds for the rest of my life, as if I were insulin-dependent. I am managing. I still hate it.

  26. If you’ll indulge a brief PSA: if you have a loved one with bipolar I’d encourage you to touch base with them in the next day or so. I do psychological assessments for the emergency departments of two hospitals, and my last shift–which just ended after 36 hours straight because we were so overwhelmed–was the worst we’ve seen in years. All except for one patient a) had a history of bipolar disorder, and b) was acutely suicidal. From calling around the state, we weren’t an outlier; every hospital in the state was overwhelmed and out of psychiatric beds.

    Reading this felt like a punch in the gut after leaving that shift. Robin Williams was an amazing talent and I’ve admired his honesty and perseverance over the years. I’m so sorry for his family, and I hope he has a measure of peace now.

  27. His neighborhood is in shock; he was, by all accounts, friendly and genuine to all and very well-liked.

    What an awful loss to everyone, and most of all to his family.

  28. A heartbreaking loss. Depression is cruel, and its victims are often seen as having a character flaw instead of a chronic illness. It’s destroyed, and taken, far too many lives.

  29. I wasn’t aware he suffered from depression. I take phenelzine for same, which is pretty heavy duty as far as antidepressants go, and sometimes makes me stupid and lethargic, but it sure beats the alternative. It can be hard, is what I’m saying, and it’s shitty that it got the best of him.

    Robin Williams, the performer. I didn’t like everything he did, but when he was on, he was on. I’m worried no one will mention World’s Greatest Dad, so I will here. That was a great, underappreciated film, and his performance was its heart.

  30. Another depressive here – forty years and (still) counting. So sad to read that Robin Williams lost the battle :(.

  31. You know it hurts when even Fox News was behaving themselves.

    My condolences to his family – and to all of us who laughed ourselves sick over his comedy, or enjoyed him at his best in movies.

    Robin William – You Will Be Missed.

  32. John, as someone who keeps taking the tablets, I thank you for this. Depression is the dirtiest bitch I ever had the misfortune to lie down with. And she gave me herpes.

  33. Depression sucks. if you suffer you understand the darkness but really hard to get someone who doesn’t to get it. Thank God for my husband,sons and mom.They are the reasons I struggle through this year after year. Robin was so funny and both my sons really enjoyed him. I pray he is finally at peace and has the Lord laughing out loud. Bless his family and friends.

  34. We lost a cousin to suicide this time of year, ten years ago.

    I hear people when they point out that depression is an illness, that one wouldn’t say “just get over it” to someone suffering from smallpox or cancer. But in some ways I think the “its a medical condition” mindset is in its way as incorrect as the “its all in your head”. Diabetes, food allergies, sunburn, and osteoporosis are all medical conditions as well. The damage done by nutritional or emotional deprivation is likewise biologically linked. But the extent of damage done (and years of life lost) by each condition can be greatly impacted by the actions of the patient. A broken bone or a torn ligament can be made worse both by overwork or by lack of physical therapy. People can and do take steps to make the management of their diseases more productive and less damaging. While it’s not correct to say that a person has complete control over a mental condition (esp depression, which saps the will to do basic life tasks) it is also not correct to take away the ability of a person to do *anything*.

    Even in the depths of the disease, a person retains ownership of their actions, even at a distant remove. An abused child is likely to grow up into an adult who struggles with the tendency to abuse others. People who are depressed often struggle with the tendency to damage themselves. We can not, I think, logically or morally remove the self-ownership of our actions.

    In other words – you can reject the lying bastard as he sits in the shadows, telling you that you are helpless and there is nothing you can do. He lies. He wants you to accept that. Even if, in this moment, you can do nothing else, you can tell him he lies. You can do that.

  35. For it is evident that larger than life can juxtapose with death at the same instant. We are taught we are never enough, we can’t ever do enough or be enough Wake up to the madness, wake up!

  36. “The Fisher King” is one of my favorite movies too, John. I felt there was a strong lesson in it that I agreed with.
    The loss of Robin Williams is such a tragedy. I applaud the bloggers and other public figures who are taking this opportunity to speak out about depression, and purpose in my heart to do the same on a small scale among my own friends and acquaintances.

  37. Sigh. I complained goodnaturedly about him for years when people would get my gender wrong, but I didn’t mean it. :( I deal with depression too, though I’ve never been suicidal. I am so glad that people are talking about it, and so sorry that this is why.

  38. Robin’s work was formative for me when it came to my teaching. Much of his performance in Dead Poets still informs how I work in a classroom. And I have depression too. It’s sinister. It’s rational. It’s painful. And it can kill.

    It would be aggrandizing to say I’m shattered by his death. But I am stunned, and I am sorry, and I am wishing that he could have been helped before this happened.

  39. I’ve been medicated for depression for nearly 19 years now and I try to be as open about it as possible because I refuse to accept a stigma because of my brain chemistry.
    I lost my mom less than 2 months ago and she was also a fan of Robin’s work. Especially his bit about malamutes:) We had 2 husky/malamute mixes and he was hilariously spot on about them. He will be missed, but I think we will honor his work and remember the good stuff.

  40. So sad, so very sad.

    I deal with chronic low grade depression. The big moment for me was a counselor who helped me see it wasn’t due to my own failings (which is how it really gets ahold of you), but due to biology combined with triggers flipped through cognitive thought. Now I recognize it as soon as it starts to take the color from my view. On the other hand, I’ve never been afflicted with substance abuse.

    Rest easy, Robin.

  41. When I heard he had checked himself into rehab to try to stay sober a couple of months ago, I thought “oh dammit, he’s off his meds again.” (I’ve read a number of places that he would often go off his meds for bipolar disorder when he wanted to tap into his mania for a film.)

    The SF Bay Area is suffering all ’round right now – he lived up in Tiburon and was a beloved, charming member of the community. Most of the people I know who’ve worked in a service job somewhere in SF or Marin County have at least one story about encountering him, and everyone says how kind and polite he was. He volunteered at his son’s school and would come on Halloween in costume so he could chat with other parents without having to be Robin Williams, celebrity. My partner’s company has handled his art collection for many years and he was apparently the most generous of all their clients when it came to tipping the drivers and workmen.

    I have said elsewhere, I feel about this like I felt when Spalding Gray killed himself: that bleak, remorseless sense of inevitability. Depression/bipolar: you BASTARDS.

  42. Rest in Peace young man. Your brilliant comedy brought us many hours of joy and happiness (from Mork and Mindy to Birdcage). You will be greatly missed.

  43. “It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”
    Robin Williams, from The Fisher King

  44. This news of Robin Williams hit me harder than I would had thought. I’ve always wondered if to be truly brilliant you had to also wrestle some awful demons. Some sort of karmic balance joke of people.

    I have General Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression and when the world loses someone like this it’s a little chilling. I wonder if I’ll ever get swallowed up for good next time. (Not a plea for sympathy, just a gut reaction here.)

  45. Sonnet: MORK
    by Jonathan Vos Post

    Toxicology Report
    of Robin Williams
    shows Russians bearing gifts
    in 280 trucks
    at the Ukraine border

    Upside-down triangle
    Red-and-black-and-silver suit
    the “Del” or “nabla”
    symbol in an alien tongue
    Aladdin in a booze bottle

    Seize the Dead Poets’ Day
    Nanu-Nanu
    which means:
    What? What?

    12:12-12:24 p.m.
    Tuesday 12 August 2014
    {2 tankas + 1 quatrain = 1 sonnet}
    {meta-sonnet, verse #44}

  46. Well put, sir. Thank you.

    My dad committed suicide 20 years ago after a life long struggle with what he called “black moods.” I’m mostly too busy living to dwell on it, but the hurt, pain and anger remain as raw today as that Sunday afternoon in April when I got that call from my brother.

    The bitch of it is that he retired from Eli Lilly and if he’d just been able to hang on for a year or two; he could have gotten Prozac for free and we could have enjoyed his company for several more decades. His depression and subsequent irrational behavior was often very difficult to deal with growing up; and I was confused and angry at him for far too long.

    I inherited the same crummy brain chemistry, and as a consequence of my own fight with depression as a teenager, I was able to reconcile and connect with him through family counseling. Despite his emotional distance, and seeming lack of affection; in many ways he was a great dad and he always provided for us, including the sizeable nest egg he left behind for my mom.

    He was a great engineer, an honorable man, and a talented artist. I miss him terribly. If I could see him again the first thing I would probably do is punch him in the face. Or hug him. Can’t decide which comes first.

    I’ve got a great job at a great company that provides a comfortable living. I married the love of my life 25 years ago and we’ve worked incredibly hard at forging a wonderful, affectionate and genuine union. Any success I’ve achieved I owe to her love and support.

    But none of that matters to my DNA, and it doesn’t stop my brain from producing the wrong quantity of certain chemicals. I just started in on a course of Prozac yesterday to treat my current bout of “I feel like worthless shit for no damn good reason at all and I don’t fucking care about anything.”

    Just talking to my psychiatrist about it helped. It will be a while before the drug reaches effective levels so I just have to push through the fog until it does.

    If you feel the same way I do right now, go get the right treatment for your situation. Life is too brief and the people in it too important to be an asshole, especially to yourself.

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