Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No One Could Have Saved Robin Williams, Not Even Himself

Robin Williams made a career of ”killing it” – but this time he killed himself and no one is laughing.  He delivered his worst punchline to a life of countless jokes and laughs.  His final billing? “Star comic quits on life.” There’s nothing funny about suicide, nothing to be salvaged in this tragedy. For nearly four decades he entertained America with comedy shows, movies, and television shows. But his voice has now been silenced, not by critics, but by his own hand. I used to love him, now I am just angry at him.

I know I don’t have a right to be angry. Although he killed himself, one has to realize it wasn’t really his decision. His depression and addiction made the choice for him. Obviously no sane person chooses to die. But it seems like what he did is so at odds to what he spent his life doing – cheering people up and bringing joy where there was sadness. Couldn’t he just laugh at his own jokes? If only it were that simple.

Most of us get down and feel at times that life is frustrating and challenging, but we don’t let  those momentary feelings of pain or even suffering go any further. We may be angry with the world, disappointed in ourselves, feeling bothered over the people in our lives, or dealing with a loss or setback – but we find a way to fight on, to live another day. Life may not look so good today, but it could be better tomorrow, or so we tell ourselves.  But for people like Williams, they struggle to cope with life. Even someone as successful as he was, someone with a loving family, and resources, he couldn’t self-medicate his depression.

No one is perfect and no one asks to be a hero or role model, but he was such a vibrant talent and to see him just end it all this way makes us all feel frustrated. He showed us how to laugh and now he shows us how to cry.

I love comedy and respect those who practice the art of making others smile even when life gives them little reason to laugh. He did it better than most. He was not creepy like Woody Allen or bitter like George Carlin or apple pie like Jerry Seinfeld or vulgar like Eddie Murphy or glum like CK Louis. He was witty, quick-tongued, great with impressions, the master at having a one-person conversation with himself, and had 10,000 watts of energy when on stage. He spoke at a frenetic pace and seemed ready to leap out of his own skin. But he seemed humble and void of ego.

He died too young – only 63. But worse, it is how he died that is so distressing. Couldn’t a smart man with things to live for, someone with Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes, find a way to survive and live another day? 

Maybe he was supposed to die years ago and it was only through his inner strength, support, and luck that he lasted this long. Still, if he made it this far – battling addiction and depression for so many years, why did he snap now?  Why did he finally give up?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence he died by hanging himself. It is a quiet way to go. No gun noises. No dramatic leaps off a bridge. No car accidents. But to asphyxiate seems like he was saying he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t voice what it was that afflicted him. He perhaps didn’t know any better than we will ever know why he felt he no longer should be walking this earth.

The details of why he did it or the methods employed don’t really matter. He is dead and gone forever. That is the only fact to absorb.

Maybe what troubled him and formed him into who he was is what fueled his comedy.  So many comics are sad people, dark inside once the stage lights shut down.  Like clowns who paint smiles onto the faces of depressed souls, comics like Williams just laugh through their screams and smile over their raging reeling of loneliness and emptiness.  Maybe we shouldn’t laugh at a comedian.  What they need more than applause is a therapist or an intervention.

He’s not the first to die before his time in the entertainment world.  Music, Hollywood and publishing are littered with suicides and accidental overdoses of booze, pills, coke, heroin and the addiction of choice.  Wasn’t it recently that we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman?  There will be others, big names and famous people, who will collapse under the weight of fame or worse, of a broken childhood, a bad marriage, a stumble in their career, or just cave under the weakening of their soul by the chronic condition known as life.

Just thinking about all this makes you want to put a bullet to your head, but then, if you’re like me, you begin to feed off the sympathy or pity and you transition into feeling anger.  All I want is to fight back, but there’s no one to punch or argue with.  But we each fight for life, making a choice every day to live by not choosing to die.

Few people can make you laugh throughout an entire standup routine, a TV interview, or a show, but he could.  Few can make you feel alive the way he did, and to do it from the beginning to the end of a lengthy career, without lightening up.  Such a talent, such a marvel.   Such a waste.

Now his death serves as a public service announcement for depression, mental illness, and addiction.  If a man with all that he had to live for – and all that he had to help him live – couldn’t defeat the demons that whispered and tugged at him, who stands a chance?

But many of us say to ourselves, “No matter how bad things are, they’ll get better.”  We find a way to believe, hope, and persevere.  We may confront loss, pain, evil, and horror – at whatever level each of us confronts such things – but the vast majority do not just pack it in.  We fight on.  For Williams, he just said to himself “No matter how things are today, they’ll be worse tomorrow.”

So how does a man who literally made millions laugh and feel better about life not have the will, conviction, or desire to keep on going?   Instead of hanging in there, he just was hanging… there.

He knew how to make a grand entrance, and now he made a grand exit.  He found a way into our homes and hearts.  Humor became our addiction and now he has cut off our supply.  The funny man laughs no more and all we can do is cry without tears.

Williams left us a legacy.  Who doesn’t enjoy Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Good Morning, Vietnam, and so many other movies of Williams?  If you can find his old comedy specials on HBO and TV, you’ll laugh your head off.

But right now I only want to scream.  I want him to be alive so I could tell him to stick around for another day and then to repeat this request each day until it was no longer needed.  But he made a choice, even if he felt like he’d run out of choices.  And he didn’t choose well. 

My uncle killed himself when he was just 32.  I was five at the time.  That event defined, to a degree, my views on life.  I understood at an early age how one can think – even be convinced – that life sucked and was no longer worth living.  But I also understood that living beats dying, that time heals, and that new opportunities will come your way.  Life is a choice and I can’t see choosing anything better than to live.

My dad has suffered from a bipolar disorder for nearly 35 years but luckily he gets the help when it acts up and responds well to treatment, medication and therapy. But millions of people really struggle with life – whether diagnosed with an illness or not. Life can be very hard, especially when we are hard on ourselves.

I don’t know that Robin Williams could have avoided his fate. We can’t save everyone, we can’t prevent every bad act, we can’t heal all who are wounded. We try to. And we succeed many times but many slip through and just lose. 

Millions of people are addicted, homeless, in jail or dead because of mental illness and an inability to cope, find support, or get the needed help. The suicide rate doubles our homicide rate. Think about it. We are twice the danger to ourselves than others pose to us. Over 38,300 people took their lives this past year. Williams is just the latest and best known to have done so. 

I want to be angry at Williams and blame him, but I can’t. It’s not his fault. It’s not society’s fault either. Bad things happen in life. We’d like to feel we can save the world but the truth is we cannot. It doesn’t mean we give up trying – we can help more people than we realize. But some people, even someone as seemingly happy and successful as Williams was, know when to leave the stage. Perhaps his death will save others and throw a spotlight of understanding and resources to tackle mental illness. But we know we will revisit this soon, with another celebrity, star athlete or ordinary dad or teenager.  And we will need more comics like Williams to help us get over their loss.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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