Like millions, I’m struggling to understand Robin Williams’ recent death. He represented a significant part of my childhood — he was the Genie, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Doctors Patch Adams and Sean Maguire, John Keating. The list goes on and on and on. He brought these roles to life with the type of imagination and zeal that only a true genius could muster. Sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears, he always delivered with passion. He taught me things, and because of this I felt like he could be my goofy uncle. I felt like I knew him. Then again, didn’t everyone? He was one of my favorite actors because, apart from the “stage,” he seemed like a genuine, regular guy.
And just like that he was gone, and, to everyone’s dismay, of his own accord. It’s hard for me to imagine wanting to take my own life. I’ve thought about it, sure, but more in a philosophical “what would it be like to die?” way when I’m feeling sad. I’ve never planned anything, never desired to act it out, never actually wanted to end my life for good. Because what a horrifyingly final decision. The very thought of getting a belt out to hang myself sends shudders down my spine.
I’m lucky, though, to have never struggled with intense, manic depression like Mr. Williams did. I have always reached out for help and depended on others when I felt life was too much to bear. So I can’t even imagine the level of despair he was experiencing. I’m not a stranger to depression and the effects it has, not by quite a stretch. In fact, I love someone who struggles with clinical depression, and it’s, well, not fun sometimes. It’s a scary illness. It’s difficult for the person with depression, and it’s difficult for the people that love them and want to see them grow and succeed.
News sources report that his daughter is “inconsolable” and no wonder. My own father died almost a year ago today. He died on the 20th of August. I saw him struggle for breath on our entry way floor. I saw his face turn blue. I made the 911 call, shouted at the voice on the other end to send ambulances faster, pleaded, wished, waited. He wanted to live, but he could not survive the attack that was pulsing through his heart. My dad had demons of his own, sure, but he didn’t want to die. I know this for sure. I don’t know what it would be like to know my father made the choice to end his life. It’s impossibly devastating to even fathom such a thing. My heart goes out to his family.
Sometimes things in life are so tragic that there aren’t enough synonyms in the thesaurus or words in the dictionary to accurately capture them. To really convey how it pains the heart to even envision them again. It’s too much. And, as a writer, that’s a tough and frustrating thing because that’s what I do. I describe things. I try to say, “this is how it looks, feels, sounds,” in a way that no one else can. I feel like I can’t rightly do that here. I didn’t know Robin Williams, unfortunately, I only knew what I was filtered through the media like most others. But I know how he made me feel and how he made me laugh in his movies. And damn, he made me laugh really hard. He was a comic genius, but not only that, he was an unbelievably talented, well-rounded actor. There won’t ever be a “friend” like him. He was a true legend that will be missed sorely around the world for quite some time to come I’d expect.
I’m here to say I’m sad for Robin Williams, for my own father, for people who feel they have no way out, for people that die suddenly and unexpectedly and the loved ones they leave behind, for so many things. I’m sad in a way I can’t describe; I’m sad for a man I knew and a man I didn’t. Williams’ daughter, Zelda, is clearly a wise and feeling woman. I’m going to share her tribute to her late father here, because it’s heartbreaking and perfect:
“You — you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery
If that doesn’t say it, I don’t know what does.
Rest in Peace.