August 12, 2014

Some words on the comic genius Robin Williams

How is it possible that the funny genie from Aladdin could ever feel depressed? How can cuddly a Mrs Doubtfire, who always saves the day with a cup of tea, along with her dulcet tones, ever be suicidal? How can Peter Pan in Hook, the fictional forever-teen who saves the day not be so young and spritely still? And how: as one of my favourite movies-that-hardly-anyone knows The Bicentennial Man, not live until two hundred, just like in the movies?

And yet here we are, mourning the loss of a true comic legend. The real man behind all of these iconic characters: Robin Williams. We are scratching our heads as we realise we did not know him, or anything really about his life at all – or his illness. It has transpired that Williams suffered with depression. Something that we so sadly learn has no boundaries – as someone tweeted this morning “Money, fame, artistic freedom- none of it is a barrier.” In sad times like these we are faced with depression as a real, tangible menace, which is not the same as “feeling a bit sad” here and there. Depression kills people. Amazing people.

His death marks the end of an era. Especially for us 90’s kids growing up. We all watched his films. There is no one else like him. He was totally bonkers, and I’m sat here re-watching clips of him on Who Line Is It Anyway, and his Oscar acceptance speech in 1998, but as a lowly viewer of his comedy all I am doing is selfishly reminiscing his career to cheer myself up. He brought joy to everyone who watched his films. He had the most amazing talent for making people cry with his touching acting, like in Dead Poet’s Society, or the emotional finale in Mrs Doubtfire. But he also made people cry with laughter. Do you remember how funny he was in Flubber? That film was oh so weird, and he made it wonderful. I think I must have about watched it 50 times as a kid on rainy Sundays.

It is ironic to think the majority of people soothed the news of his death this morning by watching his own funny material. His stand-up shows will live forever online and thanks to that, his spirit will never fade. You only have to see the camera as in it zooms in on the audience who can’t breathe at his humour – his amazing array of different voices, which appear so effortless to him. It would literally come out of him like he’d been possessed with a funny bug. For us, the members of the general public, we can buy box sets and re-watch films and pretend he didn’t die and that nothing outside the film is real. We can kid ourselves with believing nothing was wrong. But something was deeply wrong – and his family on the other hand, will feel this loss completely – in real life, in 3D, in this world where nothing is ever perfect.

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, or the true feelings behind big personalities, or the real life behind the camera, or what the jokes are covering up. Death is always sad of course but this news has even darker undercurrents in that Williams may or maybe not have committed suicide. He was battling with depression and it has been said that he was going through a series of 12 stages to try and break through to the other side. It’s this information that jars with us. It jars because on the shiny screen we see no flaws, only humour, only characters, only laughs, funny costumes and love.

This conversation is not a new one. We’ve seen actors, singers, friends, anyone – suffer. It’s an illness, just like any other horrible illness; mental or physical. Unfortunately it’s still coated in shame. It’s often invisible to see. And it often gets to the best people. The people that ironically bring the most joy to the world.

Today is a sadder day that yesterday.  It won’t stop us from endlessly enjoying Robin William’s movies, or laughing at the memories of his stand-up comedy, soundbites, cameos or his amazing overall contribution to the industry. But it does make us think twice about the fact that even the funniest, most outgoing people have personal demons. We all do, but it’s just that some overtake more than others and there’s nothing anyone can do to predict it. To echo what everyone has been saying on Twitter: we must urge anyone who feels this deep sadness to seek advice. You are not alone. There are people to help you. We have to keep talking about this.


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  1. John says:

    I never had a clue he was battling this. So sad.

  2. Alice says:

    Well said. Today’s Metro had a gratuitous headline about how he killed himself and it just made me angry, he died of depression, how that death occurred was a symptom of the pain he was suffering with. Such a wonderful man, I hope this is a moment/trigger where we change our cultural attitude towards mental health.

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