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Robin Williams open thread

[Content note: Suicide and mental illness]

Yesterday, after a long battle with depression, Robin Williams took his own life. He left behind a family that loved him dearly and a legion of fans who loved having someone to make them laugh and cry and think, even as he himself was so frequently in a dark place. He made kids’ movies with jokes that only adults would get, he made movies for adults that made you forget he was the genie from Aladdin, he made a few zany comedies that possibly made you stupider just by watching them but were so entertaining that who cares, and he made people feel better. He gave joy. Maybe he gave so much of it away that he had none left for himself. It’s not ours to speculate.

Williams was, by accounts including his own, at times a deeply unwell person. That he was actually willing and able to seek help, and supported in seeking help, is a surprising thing. Men are taught to never show anything but strength, to laugh through pain, that seeking help is a sign of weakness. Women, for that matter, are taught to keep our problems to ourselves and never burden anyone else with our feelings. Depression is frequently mischaracterized as feeling really, really sad or dismissed as overdramatic, self-indulgent self-pity. It’s something one is meant to snap out of, because it will get better, when the very nature of depression makes it well-nigh impossible to believe that “better” exists. And even in a life as filled with joy as Williams’s appeared to be on the outside, and might well have been the vast majority of the time, sometimes it defeats you. And then the world is just a little bit worse, and it’s sad.

My sympathy goes out to his wife and children, and to his many friends and colleagues who knew him personally in a way that his fans weren’t able to. And my sympathy goes out to his fans, who have lost a defining entertainment personality for a generation.

A note on commenting: We all consume media differently, enjoy different things, and feel different ways about things we consume, and we all have the right to feel passionately about the things we feel. That said, comment as you will, but please try to keep it respectful.

20 thoughts on Robin Williams open thread

  1. If anyone hasn’t seen World’s Greatest Dad, you are really missing out on a fantastic film, and unfortunately, RW’s final masterclass in acting.

  2. Don’t really want to nitpick at this time, but it seems important to point out that he also had two sons along with the daughter you extend condolences to.

  3. I grew up at a time when he was stepping to the fore as one of the nation’s newest, inspirational comedians, in the style of Jonathan Winters (another comedian who struggled terribly with depression, and I think there’s a pattern there but that’s a discussion for another day).

    I saw his first appearances on Happy Days, watched M&M with wide-eyed delight at his frenetic paced delivery (and Pam Dawber’s hilarious takes and responses), bought his albums, enjoyed the Comic Relief specials annually with Billy and Whoopi, was truly appreciative of his versatility in his dramatic turns (I still go to tears at the “It’s not your fault.” scene in GWH) and watched with sad apprehension his struggles with drugs and depression over the years.

    I hoped hoped hoped this would not be his end, but it was always in the back of my mind, especially knowing what I know as a therapist and with the many similar suffering people with whom I have worked.

    The arts have lost both a comedian and a tragedian (a term not often used, but appropriate here) who could move from one emotional height to another with little effort.

    I will miss him. I do not believe in an afterlife, but I dearly hope he found peace in his decision.

    1. To your point about comedians, there’s an article on Cracked today that explores that. It’s deeply insightful and set me off crying for quite a bit. If this isn’t a good place to discuss it, that’s fine. (I haven’t checked out the comments there, but given historical articles/humor pieces -ETA that the article today is not a humor piece- it’s probably not a good idea).

      1. I don’t know if I would trust Cracked to treat this with the sensitivity it demands.

        Wasn’t that the poor man’s Mad magazine? I didn’t even know they were still published.

        I’ll check it out though, thank you.

      2. I read it. It’s good. A little “layman” for me, but good.

        And surprising. I had no idea Cracked did this kind of thing. Pop-culture articles, serious treatises. I thought it was all movie parodies and goofy jokes.

        I’m guessing this site has nothing to do with the old magazine from the 80’s. I don’t even know if that’s still in print.

        1. They don’t typically do that – but I trust the author when he says depression and other mental illness affect a meaningful number of their staff writers. I fully believe this is hard for many people, especially those of us prone to depression, to handle. I cried for a solid ten minutes after I finished that piece.

  4. Pretty sure mork and mindy started me on my fangirl path. I had the dolls, the lunch box and wore Mork suspenders until they wore out.

    1. My brother and I spent years saying “Nanu Nanu!” to each other instead of “Hello.” And we both had pairs of rainbow suspenders that we wore into the ground.

      1. I don’t know if I’m just worn down from stress or what, but his suicide has really upset me. Especially how he did it…it’s just distressing as fuck.

        1. You are not alone at all in that. Everyone I’ve spoken to today, co-workers, friends, family, seem unusually affected by this.
          It doesn’t seem at all like a “regular,” if I can use that phrase, celebrity death, even a suicide.

          It is impacting many people on a deep level.

  5. I was going to share my thoughts on Williams in detail, but they’re extremely negative, and I know a lot of people like him. So it’s probably best that I don’t.

    1. I would imagine that discussion would not be frowned upon in spillover…and I’m interested in what you have to say. I may totally disagree with you but I’m definitely interested.

      1. Sure, I’ll go to spillover. I don’t think it’s possible for me to express my views of Robin Williams without coming off as disrespectful to the people here.

        1. Did you ever post about this? Sorry, I’m an occasional reader and not a regular commenter, and I couldn’t find it in the most recent spillover threads. It’s…definitely something I’d be interested in discussing and obviously right now most of the internet is not an appropriate space for that.

  6. I find his death terribly sad, and terribly upsetting. I admit that I had a little bit of the “if he couldn’t make it, what hope is there for me?” reaction. But I know that doesn’t really make any sense

    I don’t remember when I first saw him, because I am older than most of you, and never watched Mork & Mindy. Maybe in the late ’70’s or early ’80’s when he started being a guest on a lot of talk shows? Whenever it was, I thought he was incredibly brilliant as a comedian — I assume that it couldn’t actually have all been as extemporized and stream-of-consciousness as it appeared to be, but it doesn’t matter. It was phenomenal. The only comedian of that era that impressed me as much, and that I thought was as brilliant as Williams, was Richard Pryor, even though their comedic styles were quite different. Eddie Izzard is similar in some ways, in terms of style of comedy.

    Perhaps for the very reason that his comedy was so brilliant, I never really liked most of his movie roles, especially the “serious” ones, as much as his comedy. Particularly the tearjerkers; I guess I have a cold heart, but that kind of “sad clown” pathos doesn’t usually have much of an effect on me. (I had the same issues with Pryor’s “serious” movies; even more so.)

    Nonetheless, I did see at least a dozen of his movies, and enjoyed a lot of them. (I refused to go see Mrs. Doubtfire for obvious reasons. And, although I had no problem with his performance in Garp, and understand that John Lithgow’s role as Roberta in that movie, as well as the character in the book, were intended to be sympathetic — and were ahead of their time in that respect — the character really bothered me even back then, so I’d never watch it again. [Off-topic, John Irving’s continuing fascination with transness has always puzzled me a little — I don’t really get it.])

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