The news hit hard and was unbelievable since there have been many hoaxes through the years that Robin Williams had died. People held their breath waiting to hear from officials if this was indeed true. What many had feared now became their reality. Robin Williams was in fact dead. To make this shocking news even tougher was hearing he had died at his own hand, preliminary reports state his death was suicide due to asphyxia. A toxicology report will be done.
Most everyone has favorite memories of Robin. Many locals remember back in the 1970’s when he flew by helicopter into Orange Memorial Park for the March of Dimes event. Some remember his early days doing stand up comedy in San Francisco clubs. Others were touched by the depth Robin brought to film in great movies like The Dead Poet’s Society and the Fisher King. So many remember his great humor and wit as he portrayed Mork in the Mork and Mindy series and ask ‘Has Mork finally returned to ORK?’ And the famous and delightful Mrs. Doubtfire which was filmed in San Francisco. A sequel to Mrs Doubtfire had been in the works yet speculation shows this will not come to pass now that Robin is not here to star in it.
Others remember Robin for his generous acts of kindness; waiting hours to donate blood after 9-11 and buying lunch for everyone else who was waiting as well. Still others talk about his ‘everydayness’, being a Dad at the schools and the sport fields, being the neighbor on the block. Robin had a presence about him that transcended any labels.
It is well known he had battled addictions and depression for many years, sometimes coming out on top, sometimes having to climb a bit harder to get there. He had so many resources surrounding him, yet for Robin, the time came when he just didn’t feel they would help him again. He had been down so many times before, sometimes a person just cannot make it back up again. And as our ESC neighbor Laura F said ‘I’ve been down this road and I DO know people love me but what is most prominent is the pain I am causing them and the belief that I am right and am unreasonable. Suicide is much deeper than that.’
We do not know his private life or what might have transpired during the time preceding his death, but what we do know, is money is not everything. It could not buy him out of his addictions or his depressions. And quite possibly it was this up close encounter with the dark side that helped Robin portray so many characters so deeply. And what balanced the darkness was his pure non-stop ad lib humor and wit. He felt it all deeply and shared it deeply. He gave us some amazing characters that changed lives for so many people.
Some of our greatest minds have suffered through the mental illness of depression and addiction including Abraham Lincoln (severe clinical depression), Leo Tolstoy (depression, alcoholism, substance abuse) and Francis Ford Coppola (bi-polar). And many have taken their own life. By some accounts over 90% of those who commit suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness which includes depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders (including borderline personality disorder), anxiety disorders (including posttraumatic stress disorder and panic attacks) and eating disorders.
There are many that consider suicide a selfish act, not taking into account those they leave behind. And there are others who know the depths of despair that make the simple act of getting up to be impossible. To them it is selfish that others insist they stay in a trapped world of no hope in order to alleviate the pain of those they may leave behind.
The reality is that approximately 30,000 suicides occur in our country each year, 1% of all deaths. San Francisco’s Clinical Psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg states ‘Almost 50 percent of Americans (46.4 percent to be exact) will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes, based on DSM-IV’ She offers a few reasons why those numbers appear so high; we are better at detecting mental illnesses and Americans are feeling more ‘anxious’.
The news of Robin Williams’ death has created anxiety among many. To those who may be suffering in their own hell to see someone of Robin’s stature and wealth succumb may be too much. We need to bring this subject up and talk about it openly. Both mental illness and suicide. Contrary to what many believe, talking about suicide with someone who is depressed will not cause them to kill themselves. We must continue to take the stigma out of mental health issues. We have too much science that proves the biological connections to mental illness. It is not something you ‘just get over’ as much as family and friends may wish.
There are some great suicide prevention resources out there and you are encouraged to check them out. If you are on facebook follow the National Suicide Prevention Page for daily encouragement and tools. They staff a 24 hour hotline 365 days a year 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and their website has additional help CLICK HERE There is also help for those suffering from depression and other mental health issues and National Alliance on Mental Illness is another wonderful resource. CLICK HERE for more info. We also have a done a few stories here on Everything South City and those can be found HERE.
The ‘how’ of Robin Williams’ death has opened up this conversation about depression, substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide. And that is a huge gift in and of itself. But we must never let those issues take away from the ‘wholeness’ of this man. We must continue to remember him for the work he did, the people he touched and how he touched them. We need to exemplify his big heart, his generosity, his empathy. His son Zak said it best “I would ask those that loved him to remember him by being as gentle, kind and generous as he would be. Seek to bring joy to the world as he sought.”
How he lived is much more important than how he died. We must remember the 60+ years of his life, not the last 10 minutes. He gave us so much more and we owe him more that that. Below are a few shared memories.
Renee G: ‘ I’m so sad. He was such a wonderful person. Always went out of his way to be so sweet and funny to the people he would see in the City.’
Cmaukconen: Saw him with Jonathan Winters a number of years ago. It was hilarious. Both of them together playing off of each other.
Ctuttle: My favorite Robin role was TS Garp in The World According to Garp
Reader: He was a genius of comedy, philosophy and the human condition. A favorite of mine from way back when he had early gigs on Canadian late night tv.
wynota skunk: Good Will Hunting was great. Robin Williams was a physical comedian and actor, and here, it worked. His playing off of the Damon was very good. World According to Garp was a great performance from some, at the time, controversial material. Because John Irving was my neighbor, I read his books and went to his readings and Robin Williams really interpreted and got John in this instance, I think. He was brilliant and intense in his successes and brilliant and intense in is excesses. And the best entertainers usually are. Really tough day for many.
Green Warrior: I loved “Good Morning, Vietnam”.
Twain: His movies are great but he was so charming in Mork and Mindy. I loved that show for its innocence.