I came home from work on August 11th to find my husband looking shocked. He was slowly taking out dishes from the dishwasher and said, “You know Robin Williams,” he started. “Yes,” I said smiling wondering what the punchline was going to be. I didn’t expect the next sentence. “He died and the early reports are that he killed himself.” “Wait - how? Why?” I asked as millions of people around the world did when they heard the news. Those of us who do comedy improv, looked on him as our Pavarotti - the man with perfect pitch and timing.
I was in shock and I hoped that this was some sad prank like the fake internet hoaxes for Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby. I figured if I waited a couple of hours, the internet would figure out it was all a big cluster fuck and the man who made me laugh thousands of times would be fine. But once I went to the computer, truth was all too real. Legitimate news sources were reporting on his suicide. Suicide - I knew he had a problem with depression but Jesus, suicide? I was numb. I mean I’m a very emotional person, but I could barely cry. I posted my shock on Facebook as many people did and even posted his best moments on Whose Line Is It Anyway? a show that does improv games. I cried a little more but not the soul wrenching sobs that should have come. This guy was a comedy legend - what happened?
As the days went by, and the details emerged it got more heartbreaking - he had financial set backs, his sitcom The Crazy Ones was cancelled - he was deeply depressed. The depression was the one that was getting me. I’ve suffered from depression off and on since high school and when people would talk about how selfish he was for killing himself it was obvious they just don’t understand depression. Some people self medicate with drugs and alcohol. For me, it was obsessing on my weight, purging, crying and never feeling good enough no matter how pretty and thin people thought I was. I tried to explain on Facebook that depression is like a cancer of the mind. You would not say, “But she has such beautiful breasts, they had everything how could they get cancer?!” It’s the same thing with depression, you can have wealth, success and be considered the funniest person on the planet but once that tumor takes hold of your psyche, it can over power you if it goes undiagnosed and untreated no matter how big a movie star you are.
I remember in college having crying jags so bad, I was not sure if I would ever stop crying. It was pretty bad after Danielle was born which really sucked because I had this beautiful baby but just felt like I was letting everyone down. That’s what depression does, it pulls you into a vortex of self doubt, zaps your energy and you close off from people. Worse is when people take the “just get over it” attitude because once you go down that slippery slope, it’s hard to pull yourself back up. You would not tell a person with cancer to just snap out of it, don’t ask a depressed person to do the same thing. But still the commentators on FOX, Rush Limbaugh (who also self medicated and has experienced depression) commented on how cowardly it all was. Fucking A - these people had no idea and just because you are laughing on the outside doesn’t mean you’re not hurting on the inside.
But you learn to cover up and for some people, humor is a great defense mechanism. It keeps people at arms length if you can keep them laughing they won’t get too close - just keep them distracted by good humor and they will think everything is fine. When the life of the party actually stops trying to crack you up and is serious, it’s a good sign - it means that they trust you enough to let the walls down and they want you to come in. So I understood in my own way what is was like to be a funny person and still be someone who could walk off stage after making a packed house laugh and feel unworthy.
A few days after his death, I was feeling a little better but then word came out that he was also suffering from Parkinson’s which had been recently diagnosed. That hit me hard because my mother has Parkinson’s and I know first hand how that disease can take a healthy person and make them lose the ability to walk and do things for themselves. It clicked as to why he might have done this - maybe he wanted to go out while he could still do things for himself. My mother ate right and exercised and she got it - what was to keep me from getting it too - even if they have not be able to establish a link through heredity? Shit, is that my future? Would I want to be a burden to my family? I sat on the computer that Saturday, tears rolling from my eyes because while I hate what he did maybe that was a saner reason than just depression.
I needed to shake this funk and the kids really wanted to see a Robin Williams movie. That night, we watched Mrs. Doubtfire and decided to recreate the cake in the face
“Heellooo!” scene. Each one of us - the kids and Max and I got to have a ton of whipped cream on our faces with all the giddy silliness of toddlers. You can see the video see by clicking here. After it was edited and posted - I have to say I felt much better because I was remembering him for the comic genius he was not the person who had killed himself.
I would have left it at that until I saw the Twitter posts from Rob Schneider claiming that the Parkinson’s medicine is what killed Robin Williams. That really fucking pissed me off because again my mother suffers from Parkinson’s and if he was in the early stages then he was probably not taking a ton of medication but then I don’t know that and frankly either does Rob Schneider. To use the reasoning that he had lived with depression for 20 years without offing himself and then blame the dangers of Parkinson’s medication is stupid and fucking irresponsible. My conjecture (because I don’t know for sure and won’t make an declarative statement) is that his wife was probably keeping a close look at his medications and would alert a doctor to to any severe side effects or complications beyond the depression he had already been experiencing. If you use that argument then why isn’t Michael J. Fox a victim of suicide as well? He was diagnosed in 1991 so by using that logic, he would have been gone by his own hand long ago and yet here he is raising money and doing the best he can with what he has.
I think in the end, we’ll never really know what happened and that’s the sad part. It leaves us mourning harder then if it had been a random act of fate like a car accident. I don’t know if Robin will be our generation’s Marilyn Monroe - it’s still too fresh to figure out and there will always be someone who will try to give you the definitive answer as to why - but unfortunately there is none. In a more spiritual sense, I’d like to think that maybe the manner of his death encouraged people to call suicide hotlines which kept them from taking the same sad path. There will be no way to know the number of people his final act might have saved.
I was running with my earphones and Never Had a Friend Like Me came on from my Pandora feed. I went from a run to a walk and started to cry. My prayer is that I’ll be able to hear his voice and not feel loss but a genuine joy that this comic genius brought to the world. Now when I look at a plate of whipped cream - I giggle. Laughing with him and not crying because of him is what he would have wanted.