Why do I feel like I’ve lost a close friend today? No, why does it feel we have all lost a close friend today? I’m so saddened by the untimely death of Robin Williams and if the coroner’s initial thoughts of suicide are true it will make it even harder to accept. When I read the news last night I cried. This larger than life character who had been there through my childhood with Mork and Mindy and through my adult life with his films and stand up was stolen from us.
He had such wide appeal and there are few that can claim that in Hollywood. From family films like Jumanji, Mrs Doubtfire and the greatest Disney performance ever as the Genie in Aladdin through to his more grown up performances in One Hour Photo, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting and Death to Smoochy he was able to bring in different audiences through his performances. His stand up was amazing to watch – if you think Lee Evans sweats you should watch clips of Williams in action where he looks like a chimp fresh out of the shower. Brilliant flights of fancy and improvisation made him the unique talent that was tough to contain in a TV show or film at times. Then again his performance in One Hour Photo is one of the scariest characters because of his stillness.
There have been a few comments along the lines of “But he was so funny, how could he be depressed” or “If only he’d seen the outpouring of love yesterday he might still be with us” – that’s not true. From someone who lives with the black dog there doesn’t have to be anything obviously wrong with you to observers; it becomes second nature to put on the right mask to face work, family, friends the wider world. Sometimes the draw of the darkness is stronger and you find yourself self medicating or considering “ways out” of the bottomless pit you find yourself in. Williams had drink and drugs and that addiction on top of the depression made his life so much more difficult.
I’m not trying to compare myself to Robin Williams – everyone is different when it comes to living and dealing with mental illness – but I understand some of his needs. I don’t drink anymore, one of my three medications specifically states that I shouldn’t take alcohol and I’m sticking to that even if it means for the rest of my days. Why? Because I know that some days I would open the bottle and not stop until there was nothing more to drink – the depression demands the depressant to thrive and take control. Suicidal thoughts are something I’ve not really had – if I have I’m still in a sane enough place to remind myself about all that I’d miss and lose – but death can be constant thought overall with you considering the morality of all around you as well as yourself. I’m lucky at the moment that my experience is not as severe, but without the right treatment and medication – that I have – I too could be in Robin’s shoes.
I met Robin Williams in 1999 at Billy Connolly’s house when we were playing there with the band. He was a lovely, warm and sweet man who I had a brief chat with – but I was in awe of him and struggled to say much because here I was face to naval (he wasn’t tall) with one of my heroes. They say never meet your idols but his humble and quiet demeanour made me love him even more.
It’s not the death so much as the way he died that leaves us with the empty feeling grief brings. We will always have his films and work to enjoy and remember him by but his family have lost a husband and dad and while our loss is important it’s the questions they will never have answered that sadden me most. If you feel lost inside like the world’s pushing you away, that you’re trapped in your own mind with negativity or have isolated yourself from others you just need to ask for help – no one will judge you. GPs see dozens of people every week and there are ways out of depression or at least ways to live with it. Speak to your husband or wife, brother or sister, best mate, The Samaritans – just speak to someone because very soon you’ll find that the loneliness you thought was singular is more common than you ever realised.
Robin you made me laugh until I was sore, told me stories and was “My Captain” making me a teacher who stood on a desk quoting poetry, made me cry with a perfectly judged performance, kept me on tenterhooks with your words and made me happy inside. I’m just sorry that I and all the other people you touched couldn’t return the favour.