Robin Williams, 1951-2014

by Dave Schuler on August 12, 2014

I was deeply saddened yesterday to hear that Robin Williams had died, apparently at his own hand. He was to my mind the greatest comedic talent of his generation. Clearly, like his mentor and inspiration, Jonathan Winters, he had his demons which lead him to drug abuse, alcoholism, and now death.

I think it was Carol Burnett, the great comedienne of the previous generation, who characterized comedy as tragedy plus time. I do not know the pain that was the wellspring of his comedy but there simply was not enough time. His tragedy has now overtaken him.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Janis Gore August 12, 2014 at 7:19 am

Sucks, don’t it?

TastyBits August 12, 2014 at 9:23 am

Deep depression is a special hell. It is well beyond sadness over the death of someone or overwhelming life conditions. Anything can kick-off a bout, and once started, it operates according to depression logic.

I do not know what Robin Williams was going through, but after discussing his depression, one news person mentioned “cowardice”. He has never experienced deep depression.

Dave Schuler August 12, 2014 at 9:28 am

I have. It was pharmaceutically induced. I was prescribed a medication for a condition unrelated to depression and the medication threw me into what was obviously clinical depression. Something I hope never to experience again.

Janis Gore August 12, 2014 at 10:02 am

I took two rounds of Chantix, to stop smoking, and at the end of the second round I started having suicidal thoughts — when I was otherwise a happy, loving and loved individual.

Scared the heck out of me.

TastyBits August 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

When properly diagnosed, prescribed, and taken, the drugs for mental illness are miracle drugs, but for creative people, they destroy their source of their creativity.

A bi-polar mania is like nothing else for productivity. Solutions to problems would materialize faster than they could be written down. A two-dimensional problem would turn slightly revealing a third, fourth, or fifth dimension.

For the artist, I would guess that the depression plays a similar role. With the drugs, the creativity stops also.

jan August 12, 2014 at 11:13 am

“When properly diagnosed, prescribed, and taken, the drugs for mental illness are miracle drugs, but for creative people, they destroy their source of their creativity.”

That’s insightful, Tasty. Creative people, like surfers and big waves, roll with their waves of intense emotion which, in some cases, can create out-of-the-box brilliance.

PD Shaw August 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm

My first “peer” friend died last month, a good friend from jr. high and high school, whom I lost touch with after graduation in ’86. I wondered what he died of, and I wondered why it mattered outside of morbid curiosity and fear for myself. He was gunned down by the police at a closed gas station in suburban St. Louis at 4 in the morning, apparently suicide by cop. Incessant research on the internet was revealing about family life, job history, places lived, etc. Google allows me to stare at his home from the street, read research into “suicide by cop,” and police investigation techniques used to best help exonerate the cops and practices to protect their own mental health. There are websites that collect records of incidents of “killed by cop.” I can read the comment threads of articles about my friend’s death that disparage him as a gutless coward, or speculate about the insurance pay-out. And a cousin appeared in one such thread to bleed her pain at reading such abuse. You don’t know him, but after all this time, did I? But the only solace on the internet was the funeral home’s website where people shared their memories, and one of his teenage daughters expressed how much such sharing meant to her. And comments from workers reaffirmed that he was the same guy, decent, caring, and calm.

I am still repelled by the cult of self-actualization that sees suicide as the ultimate expression of individualism. Suicide shouldn’t be glamorized like that. But cowardice is too strong an accusation without at least knowledge, which most of us won’t have. I probably will never know what happened unless I have the courage to call the parents in disregard for their potential pain in satisfying my curiosity. The funeral home websites are good; I will try to use them more. I can’t say shit at a reception that means anything; utterly useless. Given time people can share a story.

PD Shaw August 12, 2014 at 6:45 pm

No, not in Ferguson.

steve August 12, 2014 at 7:47 pm

PD- It shouldn’t be glamorized, but I don’t think it should necessarily be shamed either. I think there are some things worse than death. Unrelenting pain, mental and/or physical, without the possibility of relief is probably one of them. I also think that while we all break at some point, some of us break much earlier than others and that does not necessarily reflect a moral failure.

Steve

jan August 13, 2014 at 12:03 am

“I also think that while we all break at some point, some of us break much earlier than others and that does not necessarily reflect a moral failure.”

I agree.

People have different thresholds, coping abilities, pain absorption, resilience. Some are extraordinarily strong, while others are extremely fragile. The “walking in another’s shoes” applies, IMO, as a prerequisite to knowing the degree of suffering someone is experiencing.

As for suicide, I think it may provide an early ‘out’ for someone not making it here. However, that kind of death usually has long-lasting ill effects on those left behind to wonder why their loved one killed themselves. One of my closest friend’s daughter killed herself. The remaining siblings and parents have never gotten over it.

TastyBits August 13, 2014 at 10:20 am

@PD Shaw

I am not glamorizing suicide, but I can understand living with untreated chronic depression. It is easy for anybody who has not experienced it to brush it off as cowardice or easy.

On a good day (untreated), it is difficult to find meaning or reason to go forward. It is more than cynicism, and it is not nihilism. It is not pain. It is confusion. It is fear and loathing. It is different for each person, but unless you have experienced it, you cannot imagine it.

If your friend had a chronic condition, you will probably never get the understanding you desire, or your understanding will come at a price you will regret.

If your friend did not have a chronic condition, he made a bad choice. He thought that there were no other options, or that this was the least bad of a list of bad options.

I have advised my stepson that there is nothing that cannot be fixed. All it takes is time and money, and the more money you have means the less time it will take. For a person without a mental condition, this can give them an additional option, and this option may be the least bad.

TastyBits August 13, 2014 at 12:56 pm

@jan

There is happy logic and unhappy logic.

For most issues, you use happy logic, but for drug use, you use unhappy logic. I believe you have seen the problems of drug addiction, and I think it has affected you personally.

For the drug legalization issue, the legalizers use happy logic. They do not know about the problems of drug addiction, and many of them deny that there will be any problems. This is how happy logic works.

There is another type of logic. It is crazy logic, but I am not allowed to say crazy. It is the logic of the (crazy) person having a problem. I would guess that a drug addict has a version, but I do not know if it is the same as depression logic.

If a drug addict is aware that they have a problem, I would guess that there are no easy solutions. It has to be a hell unimaginable by others. I would imagine that a relapse is not the “easy way out”. It must include fear and loathing.

I am not trying to kick-off a debate about legalizing drugs. On that issue you have a multi-dimensional view, but the other side has a two dimensional view. They refuse to turn the issue even slightly, and therefore, they refuse to acknowledge it is more complex than they claim. This is happy logic.

When the problem is in your head, there is no escape. You cannot do anything or go anywhere to “get your mind off the problem”. Your mind is the problem. Happy logic refuses to accept this.

I doubt “normal” people ever want to open their skull and pull parts of their brain out. For me, it is like a radio that is not tuned into a station properly, has several stations going at once, and is much too loud. My doctor has gotten it under control, but it comes at a high cost. For many, the cost is too high.

If your friend’s daughter had a chronic condition, it was always a possibility, and there is no explanation that your friend would understand or accept. It could be that her daughter could no longer live with the brain in her head.

jan August 13, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Interesting comments about happy versus unhappy logic. I’ve never heard it quite described that way.

My friend’s daughter had a mild drug problem, a gender issue, complicated by trying to figure life out at a young age with a mother who was a nice person but very conventional. She used to confide in me, which put me in the middle of my friend and her daughter, in knowing things her mom didn’t know. Her death was an implusive, irrational act which she regreted almost instantly. However, she had a heart attack and just couldn’t come back from that emotional error. I remain sad about it to this day…..

You’re right that I’ve had addiction issues in my family which does bias me to thinking kindly about legalization of drugs. However, I can see your side of it when I step out of my own shadow.

TastyBits August 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

@jan

… which does bias me …

It gives you a more complex understanding of the issue. You may still be wrong, but you will be wrong on a much more complex level.

Your opponents never address your argument. They dismiss it with simple logic. Because of you, I have modified some of my position, and I am still rethinking other portions. I was using happy logic. I am now reworking it to use unhappy logic.

jan August 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

Tasty, a postscript to our back and forth regarding drugs, is that my main opposition to drugs is their use in young teens, which is where so many adult-like “vices’ commonly begin. And, with any propensity or vulnerability to addictive behavior, teens can wildly go out of control, during years so important in brain development, where choices are made and opportunities lost that oftentimes are not retrievable nor easily recovered from.

Anyway, this is always a closely-held and personal topic for me, Tasty, one in which you have cogent feedback to offer.

TastyBits August 14, 2014 at 11:58 am

@jan

Things are not always as simple as we would like, and on drug addiction, you know how un-simple they are.

In the case of somebody like Robin Williams, he is called selfish and hurtful, but his family wanted him to carry a burden for their pleasure. Usually, we call getting pleasure from another’s suffering sadistic.

I do not endorse or condone suicide, but it is not as simple as most people would like.

For people with temporary problems, they just need to know there are other options. I tell my stepson that we can fix anything with time and money, and with more money, it will take less time. I let him know he can always come here, and we will work out a solution.

Janis Gore August 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I have one nephew in Oregon who is biologically schizophrenic. This often shows up in the late teens. At the time, he was also doing drugs.
A group of friends went out one night and one drowned. There is no end to the sorrow for that family.

He is under medication now, happily living at home, and going to school to become an economist, of all things. He’s very good at math, and knows how to save and make money.

He’s tall and handsome, too.

(My family has beautiful kids.)

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