These words and more have flashed across my screen as I read news of Robin Williams’ death. Born in 1981, I grew up watching Williams. I remember re-runs of Mork and Mindy, and some of my favorite memories of re-runs began with “Good Morning Vietnam!” blasting from some little set in some room I can’t quite remember- it’s been so long ago. I laughed through Mrs. Doubtfire, leaned on the edge of my seat through Jumanji, and even teared up during Patch Adams. At some point as a teen, I watched “Dead Poets Society” and a small flame was lit in my heart to become a writer. Robin Williams’ long career as an actor, writer, director, and comedian had more of an influence on me professionally than any other celebrity.
When I wandered out of my bedroom this afternoon, clicking on my Facebook app and preparing to ask my husband if he was nearly ready for dinner, this post greeted me:
I dropped into a chair at my dining room table and asked, to no one in particular, “Robin Williams died?”
“He did,” my husband replied from the living room. “Apparent suicide.”
I scrolled through the comments on the post. “I know he struggled with depression…” and then I caught the first comment. I won’t give the writer of the comment the satisfaction of quoting her directly, but the gyst of the comment went something like “Why is the president commenting on this when we have a Marine in Mexico?”
I was dumbstruck, as I often am when people strike out with dumb words.
It never fails. When a celebrity dies, someone simply MUST point out that he or she is not deserving of respect because he or she wasn’t in the military, or because someone currently in the military is experiencing life in a really bad way. This is especially prominent when that celebrity either has a drug problem or commits suicide; as if celebrities are immune to life, as if they don’t struggle with depression just like the rest of the world… as if their lives are somehow less valuable because they had the audacity to be famous.
As if they are less than human.
I guess, I mean, Williams did start out as an alien. So there is that.
Another comment on that post quickly grabbed my attention. “I feel he was the Bob Hope of our generation. His comedic skill will be missed and his contributions to USO shows compare to no current actor. He will be missed. Thanks for the laughs Robin Williams.”
Williams was a huge supporter of the military. This is evidenced in his countless tours with the USO. Additionally, he went out of his way to make people laugh, simply because he believed in laughter.
“The truth is, if anything, I'm probably addicted to laughter." (Robin Williams)
In his decades long career and multiple marriages, during drug and alcohol addiction and stints in rehab, the one thing that stayed the same is that he wanted people to laugh. It’s like he was battling his own demons with a belly laugh and inviting others to battle with him.
Oddly, in an interview that took place in September 2010, Williams discussed the deaths of celebrities, and how the general public mourns. He was quoted as saying, “In America they really do mythologise people when they die.” He doesn’t elaborate much more than that, despite the interviewer’s best tries, and the conversation winds its way elsewhere. But the moment isn’t lost on me. It’s like he knew that someday he would die and that someday the “grief industry” would turn him into something different- be it a cause or a myth- and that “you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst.”
I took to my personal Facebook page to express my own thoughts.
“Robin Williams. Before you "he's not a real person, why are we sad?" people start crawling out of the woodwork- this was a real person. With a family and loved ones. And an impressive career that he used to make people laugh simply because he knew the power a smile could hold for everyone around him. He was a firm supporter of the troops, and went out of his way to make sure that he had time for USO tours. Robin Williams knew the struggle of depression, he knew the devastation and the horror of fighting the invisible beast, and he lost. We should respect him as we would any other person who has lost their battle. You don't have to be a war hero to struggle with depression, and you don't have to be a war hero to be respected.”
No- he wasn’t any type of hero- not in the sense that you and I would think. He did not fight wars and watch his brothers in arms fall. I will not mourn the loss of him as I would mourn the loss of my Marine husband or my friends in uniform. I will not mourn the loss of him as I would the loss of anyone that I personally knew, because I did not personally know him.
But someone did. Someone DID personally know him. And he deserves to be mourned by them and anyone else who believes he may have contributed to their lives.
Would I still have become a writer if I’d never seen him standing atop a desk quoting Walt Whitman? Probably. The fire might’ve been lit differently. But it was that scene, that movie, that person. Could anyone else have played that role? Likely. But he did it.
He influenced me, and countless others. And for that reason, I will mourn our loss.
"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."(Robin Williams)
Robin Williams's suicide sparked a debate about suicide, and opened a discussion about what to say to those who judge suicide victims. Our resident counselor, EJ Smith, had this to say about it.