Posted on 12 August 2014.
Robin Williams and Depression: His Career and Fight for Freedom
This is something that is becoming far too frequent an occurrence – writing about someone’s death, particularly an actor that I held dear (as well as the public at large) in many ways. Losing James Gandolfini sucked, mainly because of Tony Soprano, but also his many nuanced, smaller roles, like his turn in True Romance. Then, we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, who at the time was perhaps the greatest working actor alive, though Joaquin Phoenix, his co-star in PTA’s The Master, would certainly rank right up there. Now, we lose a comedic giant with talent to burn, Robin Williams, who has more beloved in the grand scheme than almost anyone who’s passed in recent memory. Alas, to hear he (likely) took his own life makes it all the more tragic.
Other writers far superior to myself can touch on Williams career across many generations. Yes, I remember first seeing him as a youngster watching TV’s “Mork & Mindy”, intrigued but not knowing he would become a transcendent star. Yes, I had the good fortune of seeing him test new material in San Francisco at an exclusive word of mouth stand up show about a decade ago. I marveled at the energy he brought with him onstage. This was paramount to his success but also hinted at something deeper within him that drove him to seek out laughs.
Ultimately, it’s his role in Good Will Hunting, the one that earned him an Oscar, that I’ll likely treasure the most. Here was a man known for manic and crazy enthusiasm who could invoke laughter at the drop of a hat, playing simple and understated, something he had the power to do with seeming ease throughout a vast filmography. It was as if, in truth, Williams could do whatever he wanted when it came to the craft of entertainment. Think about that statement for a moment and see how very few really compare there. Unfortunately, he was hiding demons within that can torture even the brightest of souls.
I wish we knew more about depression and how to handle it. As someone who struggles greatly with his own demons in a similar vein, Williams passing is yet another reminder, that despite the ways with which the depressed deal with their “disease”, a true cure is as difficult to source as one for the deadly cancer. Depression haunts and seemingly can never be taken away once its there. You can try to hide it in alcohol, drugs (prescription or otherwise); fight it with exercise or various other forms of coping. Still, it eats at you and really never feels defeated. Depressed people fight with things that “normal” people take for granted; they are hard to understand and their feelings difficult to translate.
Some people are depressed and they don’t know it, others sit in depression and feel powerless to change it. I suspect Williams knew and fought it the best way he knew how. He gave us laughter and struggled in his solitude far too often. Williams is hopefully in a better place, if you believe in that sort of thing. If nothing else, I suspect he no longer has to deal with the demons that he struggled with here on Earth. I thank him for giving us his gifts, but in his passing hope that he has somehow found peace in the process. RIP Robin – you’ll be remembered.