Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider, revealed yesterday that the late comedian was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.
When the news was released, Michael Savage noted that the announcement made his suicide more understandable but still not acceptable.
“Friends and family can usually detect changes in the Parkinson’s patient including poor posture, loss of balance, and abnormal facial expressions,” according to the National Parkinson Foundation.
“During this initial phase of the disease, a patient usually experiences mild symptoms. These symptoms may inconvenience the day-to-day tasks the patient would otherwise complete with ease. Typically these symptoms will include the presence of tremors or experiencing shaking in one of the limbs.”
A number of contemporary celebrities have been afflicted by this disease, most notably actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 30. Linda Ronstadt suffers from it. Boxer Muhammed Ali had it. Pope John Paul II had it. The late radio disc jockey Casey Kasem had it. He died at the age of 82 this past June, with his last month’s plagued by his mysterious disappearance.
Additionally, actress Katherine Hepburn had the disease. She died of a tumor at the age of 96. And, as I noted previously at the time of Williams’ suicide, Forties actor George Sanders had Parkinson’s, although the references to PD have mysteriously disappeared from both of their Wikipedia entries. Sanders, finding he could no longer play piano, dragged the instrument out of his house (he didn’t throw it out the window; I had confused a piano movers’ description of disposing of an abandoned grand piano that couldn’t be moved with Sanders’ destruction of his instrument), and chopped it to pieces with an axe.
Sanders, like Williams, had to contend with multiple divorces. He also drank heavily. Unlike the affable Williams, Sanders had a notorious reputation for his acerbic wit. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, playing the sardonic newspaper reviewer in All About Eve. After selling his beloved home in Spain, according to Wikipedia at the behest of his then-girlfriend, although he may also have been in debt. Shortly afterwards, he took an overdose of barbiturates in a Spanish hotel room.
His autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad, was published in 1960 and gathered critical praise for its wit. Sanders suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography, which was later written by Sanders’ friend Brian Aherne and published in 1979. According to Aherne’s biography, Sanders could not bear the notion of losing his health (he’d also suffered a minor stroke, had trouble with balance, and could be seen teetering in his last film) or needing help from someone else, and he became deeply depressed.
Sanders left a suicide note, which famously read: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.” (His signature appeared under the message.)
“Good-bye, cruel world” is such an old expression, modern sources like Wikipedia don’t even know its origin.
Williams did not leave a note explaining his suicide. The Media has wagged its head at this deficiency. You can just imagine what his answer to that complaint might have been. “I’ve hanged myself. What? You need a note, too? Please excuse Robin from life? He couldn’t bear to end his life with his face disfigured and his family left in destitution?”
Katherine Hepburn and Pope John Paul II got a pass from the public because they were elderly and had lived lives of dignity in a more dignified age. Muhammed Ali didn’t end his life and his disease was attributed to his punishing vocation. No one really knew about Casey Kasem. In any case, he was old. Linda Ronstadt can no longer sing, but then a career as pop music star is an exceedingly short one.
But a comedian – a rubber-faced comedian at that – with a face distorted by disease. He might have shared his other problems openly. But disclosing that he had Parkinson’s would have brought the Media hounds running in for the kill. What an opportunity for them.
Williams knew the world is cruel. He did impressions, and although I never went to see any of his night-club acts, no doubt the impressions of real people were unflattering. The world is most cruel to those with visible defects, particularly the overweight and the ugly.
Ugliness is the last prejudice, one that will never be eradicated. Human nature dictates that there must be a scapegoat to wield superiority over. There is no diet for homeliness, although there is surgery for big noses, weak chins, and other defects. They haven’t found a surgery yet for lanky limbs, though. Even if a celebrity, who can afford those surgeries, submits to them, the Media still finds out and they have a heyday over the discovery.
I’m one of those people to whom Nature and the World were cruel. Yesterday, I accompanied my mother on her visit to her foot doctor. The doctor noted how much I looked like my mother, and she cringed in anger. I resemble Mom, yes, but she’s put together much better. I have her eyes, but my father’s nose and ears, not hers. Due to economic deprivation, we couldn’t afford to have my nose jobbed. Her face is fuller, even at 90, than mine. My face has lost volume over the years and has become more angular. My limbs are lankier, my neck longer, and my teeth – they’re also my father’s not my mothers. Due to emotional problems, I never had them straightened. My bad.
So there it is. The fact that I was homely never drove me to suicidal thoughts. It was just a fact of life that I accepted, even as I was being tormented daily by my classmates. I knew that I’d never be married or have children. I have a number of friends who are childless and unmarried. I avoid going out much in public where I know adolescents and adolescent-minded people congregate. Once one of my brother’s friends suggested that it would be better if I killed myself rather than live an ugly life. Or at the very least, go live in a convent. Ugly people, in his opinion, had no right to live at all.
As I aged, the tic I’d developed in childhood did not go away as predicted but grew worse, and I also began to develop floaters in my eyes. Floaters are a consequence of age. Everyone gets them and there’s no cure for them, either. Eventually, eye doctors say they’ll go away. Mine didn’t; they multiplied and have become quite a distraction.
They don’t settle, as doctors claimed they would, but float right in my line of sight. The eye also has a natural tendency to follow movement. Much as I hate them, I’ve come to accept these little pieces of garbage obstructing my eyesight and even to study them. Unfortunately, I make the mistake of looking at them in public which I shouldn’t do, which can give one a rather peculiar, unsettled look. I was looking at them between numbers last night at our band concert, wondering how many more would develop.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of giggling. Some women – mind that I say, women, not girls or teenagers but middle-aged women – were taking photos of me with their cell phone cameras and giggling at the result. Again, it was my own fault for not being more careful and attentive. Still, I marveled at the cruelty of people, particularly middle-aged women who should know better. They were Indians, though, not European-Americans. Perhaps their culture has no brook with insensitivity or lack of manners.
I’m glad they got me because it was a reminder to have a little more self-awareness and not embarrass my family, friends or the band by indulging in such behavior. Today, I’ll renew my determination not to be ruled by the inner cobwebs of life, the signs of age and decay, and focus more on the beauty surrounding me.
But even looking outward, there is ugliness in humanity. As for not being prepossessed of beauty, I remind myself that neither was Jesus Christ. That’s something they never teach you in church: that Jesus was not a handsome man. He was not Robert Powell or even the man in the Shroud of Turin. Preachers and churches are silent on the subject of the last prejudice.
But the Bible isn’t. It’s right there in Isaiah 52 and 53:
“Behold, my servant shall deal prudently; he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
“Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
The more popular notion of Jesus is picked up after those verses:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
There is the comfort for the uncomely, the homely, the sick, the malformed, the crippled, the afflicted. He was like us, after all, and had the strength to bear it without succumbing to self-pity or despair or revenge. Instead, He taught that we should return good for evil, kindness for cruelty, forgiveness for weakness, and love for hatred.
“Do good to them that abuse you,” He said.
So, rest in peace, Robin Williams. We thank your widow for revealing the true circumstances behind your death. I believe God understands perfectly and will not punish Williams for falling into despair. He knows just how cruel this world has become. To those contemplating this same action: Don’t give up. The best “revenge” is to get professional help, live well, and prosper.
Tomorrow (or Monday): the riots going on in St. Louis, Mo.