Robin Williams was not alone. He had many friends in Hollywood. Unfortunately for all of us who enjoyed his comedy (if not his politics), he isolated himself inside his head.
His friends knew something was wrong. The anonymous actor who spoke to a London newspaper it appears was actress Carrie Fisher, who was hired to write the Tinkerbell character in the movie Hook and worked with Williams to craft the dialogue between Tinkerbell and the Peter Pan/Banning character.
She told the newspaper that he came to see her show, Wishing Drinking, about her own battles with alcoholism and mental illness. During the show, she has her audience take a test on bi-polar disorder. Williams went along with the test – and tested positive.
Fisher said that she could see something was wrong, that he wasn’t himself. Another friend said that the twinkle had gone out of his eye after undergoing open heart surgery in 2009. He also dreaded having to film the sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. He told someone making films brought out his inner demons.
Certainly, Mrs. Doubtfire would have caused him some anguish since the movie is about a divorced man trying to regain custody of his kids. Dead Poets Society was about a teacher in a private boys’ school (Williams attended a private school) who inspires his students to stretch themselves. As an indirect result, one of the students commits suicide. In Hook, he portrays an adult attorney who neglects his children – possibly using the role to indict his own father.
Rush Limbaugh has said that we shouldn’t speculate; that no one can know what was going on in his mind. Glenn Beck, who’s been there personally and been a witness to two family suicides, says professional help is the only way for someone that far-gone. Michael Savage, a San Francisco area resident and broadcaster, says that it was an act of aggression – or possibly passive-aggression – and that Williams didn’t stop to think how his action would affect his family, particularly his children.
Limbaugh and Savage say that the Marin County Coroner was right to publicly disclose the details of Williams’ suicide. In fact, Savage says that the coroner was legally required to do so. Beck, on the other hand, objected and blamed the Media. Limbaugh says that suicides aren’t encouraged by the details but by the sympathy that the high-profile suicides bring. Savage says that Williams’ suicide shouldn’t be romanticized.
From up here in the cheap seats, on the other side of the radio and television, it looks as though what happened was Williams got up one morning, looked in the mirror at this aging guy, and said, “Who the heck are you?!” Where was that young, athletic guy with the twinkling eye and the lightning-quick sense of humor? Where now are thy gambols and thy wit?
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorr’d in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kiss’d I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning?” Hamlet, Wm. Shakespeare
In short, he couldn’t face his own mortality. Or the debts he’d incurred through divorce and probably his cocaine habit. Or having to return to work he no longer had the stamina to perform, given his heart condition. Stripped of his clown’s paint, he was just another human being, like everyone else. He apparently couldn’t live with that – and committed one of the worst crimes against humanity, save murder or genocide – he took his own life.
When Williams admitted to Carrie Fisher that he’d tested positive on her bi-polar test, he denied that it meant anything, that that wasn’t him. Pundits like Limbaugh say no one can know what’s going on in someone’s head. But this guy had friends who wouldn’t let them help him. A clown admitting that he was sad? No more than the wealthy father in Dead Poets Society could admit that his son didn’t want to follow in his footsteps and that, in fact, he wanted to be an actor, a mark of disgrace to wealthy families in those days. JFK Jr., impossibly handsome, wanted to be an actor, but his mother, Jackie, said absolutely not. Would he be alive today if he’d been living in Hollywood, making movies and taking a commercial flight to Boston and then going by car to Martha’s Vineyard?
The details of suicide are horrible, something no one wants to know particularly. No one seemed bothered by the details of young Phoebe Prince’s suicide, hanging herself with a scarf from a rod in the family closet. The father of a young man who’d been on our band hanged himself from a tree in their backyard. My godfather, recently widowed, was deprived custody of his four children by his in-laws after his wife’s death. He was saved only by my parents’ concern about his state of mind when he visited them, giving the new parents advice on dealing with their infant son (my older brother). At my mother’s urging, my father went up to his apartment, where he found the windows closed and all the gas jets and the oven turned on.
My father brought him back down to their apartment, where they convinced him to hire a lawyer to fight the custody ruling. He regained custody of his children and lived to enjoy a fairly good old age (he outlived my father) and a number of grandchildren, including the beauteous A.
I (still) think the Marin County Coroner’s office should have issued a press release rather than hold a press conference on the precise details of Williams’ suicide. Holding a public press conference on such a sensitive issue is like playing an outdoor concert without first rehearsing the music. Once you play that wrong, dissonant note, you can’t reach into the air and take it back. Such words are better left to print and the reader’s discretion.
The Media does what it does. You can’t expect them to be responsible. They should be, but that’s wishful thinking. No one should really be taking the Coroner’s Office for doing their job. Any Media outlet could have taken that same written report and read it out loud over the air, with the same result. But it would have been on their heads, not the Coroner’s Office.
Anger is a natural reaction to Williams’ act of suicide. Plenty of people all over the world experience varying degrees of depression for various reasons – financial difficulties, divorce, illness (mental and otherwise), a sense of worthlessness or failure. The suicide prevention expert on Michael Savage’s radio program yesterday had it right, though:
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”