I’ve become a fan of many actors and actresses over the years, but Robin Williams was the first.
Williams was moving into a new stage in his career when I became a fan, but I didn’t know that. I knew him as Mork from Ork because Mork & Mindy played on Nick at Nite at 8:30pm, and I was allowed to stay up that late. And then I knew him from Mrs. Doubtfire and the voice of Genie and then Peter Pan. He was making movies for my demographic, and he was making me laugh. I didn’t know about his stand-up comedy or the rainbow suspenders or his drug addiction or his Oscar nominations or that he had more hair than a werewolf. He was warm and funny and willing to be goofy. He was a live-action cartoon but never felt false.
Then I got older, and naturally that came with being more critical. Not everything Robin Williams did was genius. He followed his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting with a string of cloying pictures that all flopped. He was trying too hard. And then he took his career in a new direction by being dark. And then he became harder to pin down. He moved to supporting roles or family comedies and played a string of forgettable parts except for one.
There are many powerful performances in Williams’ career. Ranking them would be a disservice and a fruitless endeavor. But when I learned of his death earlier tonight, and after the initial shock followed by the deep sorrow–a sorrow I feel now and one that compels me to write this–I started thinking of his performances, and the one that rushed to the front of my mind was World’s Greatest Dad.
Being the critical snob that I am, I had managed to pigeonhole Robbins’ career, file it away, and be proud of myself that I had so quickly summed up his talents and abilities. He was no longer my idol; he was my subject. And in my summation, he was an actor who was at his best when he thought no one was watching. Sure, he had inspired people with touchy-feely stuff, but FUCK THAT. That’s not serious. No, he was a real actor when he was in World’s Greatest Dad because he knew it would never go mainstream. He was free and in that freedom he gave a performance that tapped into his biting comedy and his raw emotions like no other picture.
Of course, I was (and am) an idiot. I just watched The Fisher King for the first time tonight, and I see the same kind of amazing performance. It’s incredibly funny and painfully moving. I thought I had outgrown Robin Williams, and it turns out I still don’t know shit.
I’m not going to pretend he was the greatest actor of his generation of every one of his films was a gem, and as World’s Greatest Dad teaches us, honesty is a greater virtue than cloying sentiment. Emotions have to be earned, not manufactured. Time and again, Williams earned those emotions, and I’m sorry I wrote him off. And I’m even sorrier that I’ll never have the opportunity to tell him how much his comedy influenced me and what it meant to me.
He meant so much to millions of people, and yet it appears that his depression was so overwhelming that he couldn’t recognize such widespread acclaim. If you need proof that depression is a disease, look no further. Robin Williams was revered worldwide by millions of fans not to mention loved by family and friends. Depression doesn’t care. What’s most insidious about depression is that it puts you in a box where everything beautiful disappears, and all that remains is despair.
And I’m sure there will be those who suffer from depression, and as that depression sinks its fangs in deeper, it will distort reality and cause the victim to say, “Robin Williams was loved by millions and a huge success! If he can’t survive depression, what hope do I have?” That’s what depression does. It changes reality to where everything is inescapable pain and suffering.
I’m so sorry Williams saw no escape. I’m even sorrier for those closest to him. My pain seems trivial in comparison to those who lost a man who, by all the anecdotes I’m reading, was a lovely human being. Perhaps he felt their lives would be better off without him or that even the world would be better off without him. They’re not. We’re not. We miss you terribly, Mr. Williams.
If you suffer from depression, please, please, please find help. Don’t be ashamed to tell your loved ones. They love you and they want to help you. If you feel uncomfortable talking to them, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Even if you’re not feeling suicidal, they will still talk to you. They want to help you. And for the long haul, please find a doctor. It may take time to find the right medication, but once you find it, it will make you feel better.
I don’t have all the answers, but I swear to you there are answers. Suicide is never one of them.
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