As I thumbed through my inspiration journal this morning to the “People I Would Most Like To Meet” page, I realized I was removing a name from the list that I would now never get to meet for the second time this year. Both lives were lost to depression and essentially suicide.
When I was very young—three and half, to be exact—I recall being addicted to a television program. A particular show where this guy talked very fast, and people laughed, and he came from an egg. He wore suspenders with these funny buttons on them, and he was very hairy. That man was Robin Williams; the show was Mork & Mindy.
At the time, my comprehension of the jokes were limited, but I knew that this person could make people laugh, and laughing was something that felt good. I studied him, his moves, the animation, the cadence. I wanted to make people laugh like the very hairy dude who came from the egg. I didn’t realize I was doing it, but now looking back, there are a lot of things that influenced who I am today. Before the web and mobile phones, you basically carried certain entertainers with you throughout their entire careers. There were less of them, so it was easier to identify with particular artists and mimic and imitate them. Robin was Popeye, and we grew together. As I matured, he introduced me to Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal and a host of household names who remain in the spotlight to this day. HBO’s Comic Relief USA fundraiser was one of my favorite events of the year. “Gooooooooooooooooooooooood morning, Vietnam!” Say that out loud, and anybody alive in 1987 knew exactly who you were talking about.
Stand-up… forget about it. Robin was king of his domain. His wit, delivery, the complexity of the subject matter, his ability to harness the voices and faces needed to add the punch to the punchline. I watched interviews where he would just dominate the interviewer. His reaction times were bar none.
But there was something else in his comedy that was always there: a very deep sadness, something from within. I believe all comedy is tragedy—the best draw their work from within and usually from very dark places and very dark circumstances. Watch Richard Pryor and his delivery of his struggle with drug addiction. Something Robin also knew very well.
I believe it was what made him such an incredible actor: Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, his scope and apparent understanding of human emotion and struggle allowed him to go places many professional actors will never touch.
I think in many ways, Robin tried to show us in his performances, as with many stand-up comedians, the tremendous amount of pain and suffering he carried within. We laughed as he shared with us his more intimate feelings masked behind a joke. As you watch the routine, he weaves this suffering from one bit to the next. You could see it in his eyes, the sadness behind the humor. I cannot imagine what it would be like walking off that stage with hundreds, if not thousands, cheering your hurt. Everybody heard him, but how many of us were listening?
What is undeniable is that he inspired decades of people of all ages with his humor and gave us every bit of his soul in every one of his performances. He has impacted young and old alike and will likely do so for years to come.
Robin will now also be remembered forever more for his final act, in which he has reminded the entire world that depression can happen to anyone at any age and that it has the potential to be very lethal.
Six weeks ago, I added Robin’s name to a list of celebrities who we wanted to reach out to for this year’s gala. I was hoping if I could just have one conversation with him, he would hear me and potentially consider being the presenter of this year’s grant. How disturbing it is to me to now be writing this post.
Now I am crossing him off of two lists and adding him to one.
Robin Williams – “People I Would Like to Meet” – Deceased Suicide
Robin Williams – “Potential Presenters for 2014 Gala” – Deceased Suicide
Robin Williams – People who have personally influenced me who I’ve lost to Suicide
This is a serious topic that is only highlighted when tragedies like this strike. How do we make it part of our daily conversation?