Ah, speaking of influences in my formative years, and speaking of joy….
Like so many people, I was stunned and saddened to learn about Robin Williams’s death by suicide on Monday. I’ve been a fan since the first appearance of Mork from Ork on “Happy Days”, and his wild, brilliant comedy not only helped me survive a difficult adolescence, but also provided weird and wonderful creative inspiration. (Jell-O, anyone?) When he wasn’t bowling you over by the force of his energy, he was blowing your mind putting together disparate elements to create a hilarious and beautifully unified whole.
He was open for a long time about how some of that energy was cocaine-fueled, and about his struggles with substance abuse and depression. To me, those things make his accomplishments that much more impressive. I know how hard it is, when you’re feeling lousy and down on yourself, to just show up and function on a minimally acceptable level. Williams did whatever he had to do to be amazing – and make no mistake, that is an incredibly difficult thing to do in show business, where the glamor is heavily underpinned by a great deal of personal risk-taking and terrifying levels of vulnerability. Anybody who’s ever gotten up on a stage in front of people, even just for a high school talent show or an open mic, should be able to appreciate that. His ability to be joyful in his comedy and deeply present in his dramatic roles despite his suffering demonstrates a profound generosity of spirit.
A former boss of mine posted this quote on Facebook:
“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, ‘He fought so hard.’ And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.”
― Sally Brampton, Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression
Robin Williams fought long and hard and valiantly. I’m sad that he suffered so, and deeply grateful to him for fighting. We were lucky to have him on the planet with us.