The suicide of Robin can’t help but bring up movie moments. With the vast, multiple venue, career of Robin Williams, how can it not? As of now it seems, in part, depression; an evil internal golem if there ever was one, finally dragged down the Einstein of comedy. Maybe “Einstein” in drag, more than once? Took him away from us, and more important: from his family.
We’ve been “Robin-ed.”
The movie my mind keeps going back to is What Dreams May Come, where Robin goes into Hell to save his depression-prone, suicidal wife. If only the immensely talented comedian, and superb actor, could have saved himself from extinction, as I’m sure he had so many episodes of depression before.
If nothing else Robin has opened up multiple discussions on suicide.
Perhaps I have a unique perspective on this. In 1973 I tried to kill myself. Oh, before that there had been attempts, but I dismissed them as mostly attention getting drama. I won’t get into specifics, but this was the first time I had been utterly alone, everything falling apart, seemingly without a friend I could talk to and I looked at my life and felt there was a persistent pattern of eventual, utter failure, and, for some unexplained reason I was disliked without reason by people I hardly knew. Disliked, even tossed aside as unworthy of a modicum of respect, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how I changed, and sometimes especially because of both.
People claim those who commit suicide are selfish, don’t consider how it would affect others. From my own perspective I did “look at” how it would affect other people, and felt it might upset a very small handful, at first, but in the long run they would be better off, happier. I’m not saying such was rational. Obviously what we feel may be “rational” during those moments of desperation isn’t always that rational. But it certainly seems so at the time, if we’re thinking much at all.
But Robin had none of that, or shouldn’t have. So much praise, all the recognition for role after role, magical moments with Jonathan Winters; maybe the ultimate comedy team of our generation, our time. So why depression?
That’s a naive question. Sometimes with depression it’s like asking a fish, “Why water?”
I imagine age might have had something to do with it: a comedian who reached a height unimagined by most who thinks age may be slowly taking away some of the edge that brought him to that Mt Everest mountain top for so many years. A series he needed desperately to succeed had just failed. Perception colored by depression was far more important, seemed more real, than anything else during those moments.
Then there’s following a path of self destruction despite warning “signs” held by others, or noticed while traveling that final, horrible, destination. I know in the past few weeks several people I have loved, known, been friends with, have died: one I loved very much died in a way absolutely could have been avoided.
But there’s only so much you can say, so much you can do. Sometimes people insist on pursuing a path and you just have to let them go.
Reminds me of lines from David Cook’s Come Back to Me, written by Amund Bjørklund, Espen Lind and Zac Maloy…
I can’t get close if you’re not there
I can’t get inside if there’s no soul to bear
I can’t fix you, I can’t save you
It’s something you’ll have to do
The sad fact is usually you can’t “fix” someone else. Perhaps that’s Robin’s story, and part of the story of those closest to him who would know him far, far better than we do. Not unexpected for someone who also, reportedly, had a problem with being both North and South Pole. But perhaps that part of what drove him on, fueled his almost maniac, light speed, wit. And box office receipts, the love expressed for him, certainly proves millions, perhaps billions, were willing to buy… polar-ed.
Yes, that’s a joke. A joke I’m sure Robin would appreciate.
I survived my own attempt because, early in life, I realized what was inside me: a potential for a deep darkness that could easily overwhelm me, and decided never, ever, to go back. And maybe because I didn’t reach the same heights Robin rightfully soared to. My guess: whatever issues I had, or have, are nowhere near the level someone like Robin had. Talent and mental issues have always been close, and too often kissing, cousins.
But, as much as society pushes the meme: Robin proves money doesn’t equal happiness and satisfaction.
As much as society glorifies it: Robin proves fame and respect won’t always equal happiness and satisfaction
Both come from inside, and that’s the conundrum: those who push themselves to excel are often broken cups that will never be filled: sometimes due to mental issues, sometimes due to how they’ve been treated. This is why stars so often flare, go super nova. Robin, thankfully, gave us years of joy, and things to think about, ideas to consider, in his more serious moments.
People think once someone reaches those kinds of heights that you have absolutely no reason to kill yourself, but money, fame and a family have their own pressures, their own problems that we probably will never understand. Reminds me of a Simon and Garfunkel song where the richest, most loved person, in town commits suicide. It reminds me of a childhood friend named Ernie who killed himself. Ernie always seemed a gentle, fun loving, soul, who would have been the life of the party.
Seemingly no reason to commit suicide at all. But what was going on inside? How was life for them in their family?
If you haven’t been there, you don’t, and won’t, understand.
But I do believe each suicide is an opportunity to examine how we treat people, examine how well we are dealing with, or not dealing with, psychiatric problems.
Robin was living on the edge most of his life, and almost everyone I mentioned who committed suicide, or attempted, including myself, was. But I’m sure, over the years, Robin’s “edge” was sharper, more intense, had more highs and lows, than we can imagine. Living on the edge, taking chance, taking risks, all have costs we can’t even imagine on Robin’s level of fame.
But in a more metaphoric sense with Robin I have to go back to his wife in What Dreams May Come who killed herself. Having lost her husband, her kids, her medical condition: depression, finally got the best of her. Her Hell was to live out eternity in a nightmare version of the house she and her husband, Robin, shared. A house falling apart, moisture rotting everything. And that’s all she saw.
As you get older, like Robin, like me, the splatters of paint that are deaths of friends, lovers, seem to develop patterns, group together as if they have meaning, as if we’re next. And, eventually, we will be. Meanwhile your mind can get less sharp, your fingers lose feeling, diabetes and other maladies can mean you’re taken apart, piece by piece. Just seeing how short the time ahead is compared with behind is depressing in itself. And maybe, just maybe, you long to live on that edge again, if only in your last moment.
Suicide is an edge.
One hell of an edge.
I hope, if Robin is anywhere, someone goes to get him out of that Hell depression is. But, to be honest, he is somewhere: in us.
And we are far better for it.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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