Prince of Clowns

Robin Williams had me at “Nanoo-nanoo!”  I remember his appearance on the episode of Happy Days where Mork tried to kidnap Ritchie Cunningham.  Williams, who died yesterday at the age of 63 – an apparent suicide – was hilarious and I said to my brothers I hoped they kept this guy on because he was a riot.


Then came Mork and Mindy.  He was incredible, totally manic.  Why so many of our generation’s comics commit suicide?  Or overdose on drugs?  Of course, his suicide isn’t without precedent.  Forties actor George Sanders, when he learned he could no longer play the piano, chopped up the piano, threw the pieces out the window, then killed himself.


And therein lay his problem.  I can’t say I cared much for his politics.  Or his blue humor.  My mother and I walked out of Moscow on the Hudson.  If we were looking for Mork from Ork, he certainly wasn’t there.


Williams openly discussed his alcohol and drug addiction, particularly to cocaine.  Upon the death of John Belushi in 1982 and with the impending birth of his first child, he quit cold turkey.  For 20 years, he stayed clean.  But eventually, the demons caught up with him and in 2006, he went back into rehab.


Williams was best known for his manic comedy.  However, he wanted to show his serious side as well, which he did most memorably in Dead Poets Society (1989), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), and the lesser-known Jakob the Liar (1999).


Then of course there were his classic comedy and children’s film turns:  Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Hook (1991), Aladdin – as the Genie (1992), and Patch Adams (1998).  Patch Adams was panned by the critics, who apparently were looking for something blue from Williams.  There was also Jumanji (1995), a rather dark, and sometimes frightening, but very interesting children’s tale.


Like many actors who won acclaim for more positive roles, Williams either thought he was missing something or he was looking for something.  Only he looked for it in the wrong places.  He won great acclaim for his darker movies – he’d been hoping to play Heather Ledger’s role as The Joker in The Dark Knight Returns.  He didn’t get it and Ledger became so depressed by the dark, evil character he was playing that he took prescription drugs (and probably street drugs) to compensate.  Consequently, Ledger died much too young.


Williams won the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Will Hunting, a film I didn’t care for in the least.  Williams was rather too obvious in displaying his politics, dressing up like Fidel Castro or Che Guevara, or whoever he was supposed to be.  That’s Hollywood for you, always missing the boat, although the Academy’s choice of Denzel Washington in Glory was understandable.


Williams began following a darker path both professionally and personally.  Just as One Day Photo (about a photo developer who becomes obsessed with a family he has photographed over the years) was being released in 2002, Williams fell off the wagon.  A number of apparently unmemorable films which no one talks about much (and I never saw) followed.  He starred in a short-lived television series, The Crazy Ones.


No one could blame him if the later Williams, entering into his sixties, could no longer summon up the manic energy he possessed in his twenties.  Who can?  As he went too far down in the other direction from his comic mania, so did the depression side of his manic-depression, or bi-polar disorder.


He said that taking cocaine had the opposite effect it had on other people; that it calmed his down from his “normal” manic state.  Pat Gray, on Glenn Beck’s radio program this morning confirmed that Williams was, in fact, bi-polar and like all bi-polars had a bad habit of going off his medications.


The medications do the job of keeping the patient from going off the deep end, one way or the other.  The trouble is it leaves them on too placid a road.  They don’t experience any ups or downs at all.  Those ups and downs are a normal part of life.  However, bi-polars are chemically changed both by their conditions and their medications; there is no balance without the meds.


Bi-polars are often very creative people.  Without that ability to go beyond the limits, always keeping to the cautious road, we would not have great inventions, great art and music, great poetry and stories, great actors and comedians.  Even great presidents, like Abraham Lincoln.


There are people out there right now who have plunged so deep into that dark hole that they can no longer see the light.  They keep it to themselves because, frankly, most people would shun them rather than help them if they knew.  “You’re too needy,” is more likely what normal friends will tell them than “What can I do to help you?”  They fear being drawn into the darkness themselves.  The depressed person is expected to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Or get professional help (which at best can only mask the symptoms or regulate them with medications).


According to his bio, Williams was extremely overweight as a child and his busy mother often left him in the care of the housemaid.  He consoled himself in his loneliness by creating characters in his head and had them talk to each other with different voices, a characteristic that would later lead him to fame and fortune.


Other people aren’t of much use.  Doctors will only prescribe you meds.  Well, that’s better than hanging yourself or jumping off a bridge.  Take the meds, by all means.  But if you need someone to talk to, talk to God.  He’s listening and you can trust him (although you should beware because it is a party line, so to speak, and someone else may try to impersonate the Creator of the Universe and tell you the wrong things).


The best source for God’s word is The Bible.  If you really take the time to read it, and not just rely on someone else’s word for it, you’ll find the answers you need to get through.


“Tomorrow will be a better day.”  That’s what my mother always told me when the kids at school were tormenting me.  I had a more defiant attitude than most depressed kids, which I learned from my mother.  I kept hope that there was a world beyond the confines of the prison schoolyard.  One day I would escape and find better people, if not in one place then another.


I learned to shun anything negative.  No horror movies.  No psycho “thrillers” (which was why I wouldn’t watch One Day Photo or The Dark Knight).  No negative people, either.  That is, no people who made me feel bad about myself.  Jobs were a problem, of course, because it’s not that easy to just get up and leave, so sometimes I found myself in those dark holes.  At one job, the boss and the co-workers were so horrible that I was certain I’d fallen into hell.  Eventually, though, we parted company and I went on to a job that I loved.  It was just a matter of getting through it.


That’s where making music helped me through.  I had a series of jobs I hated.  The people were miserable, abusive taskmasters who took their power a little too seriously.  Playing in the band – and watching movies – were my escape from that plight.  I refused to be drawn into the snare of drugs and drinking.  In fact, I was and am quite convinced that alcohol is what helps makes these people so dreadful.


Glenn Beck was right when he said that depressed people just get tired of fighting it.  He should know; he’s suffered from depression all his life and has battled drug and alcohol abuse.  Creative people are especially susceptible to it because they’re expected to conform, to toe the line, to lead a normal, productive life, not take chances on a crazy dream.


Comedienne Lucille Ball once wrote that comedy is a gift to others but that it’s also requires a sacrifice, allowing people to laugh at you.  Laughter is a release from tension and anxiety.  I used to make people laugh at work.  That was mainly why most of my bosses didn’t like me.  That was why my last job at the insurance company was such a perfect match.  I enjoyed making people laugh even as supervisors were cracking the whip to make those people perform and produce more.


Thank you for the gift, Robin Williams.






Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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