I heard the news from my son in a text, Robin Williams had killed himself. He was to my generation what Jonathan Winters and Lucille Ball were to my Dad’s generation, a comedic genius. This morning I read about the details, addiction, depression, and wonder how he managed to live to be 63. The fires of brilliance burn bright and hot, then vanish, leaving the world a colder place.
The first time I ever saw him was on an episode of Happy Days where he played the whacky alien “Mork.” Even though that small role earned him his own show, “Mork & Mindy,” I seldom watched. My true introduction to Robin Willams was in his multiple appearances on Johnnie Carson’s Tonight Show. He would come out and do his standup comedy routines, then sit down for some of the most hilarious unscripted interviews ever filmed. Do yourself a favor and look them up on YouTube. They are a feast of manic, rapid-fire wit and energy that leave you exhausted from laughter.
He could be profane. His HBO specials were heavy on “F” bombs when they didn’t need to be. He didn’t have much patience with Republicans or conservatives, not exactly a unique position in Hollywood. Some of his routines were heavy on religious themes. One of my favorites was his Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian, #10 No snake handling, #6 all the pageantry…none of the guilt.
Williams was an improvisational genius. He had a manic energy and lightening quick mental reflexes that made you think that he must certainly be on speed, which he probably was. Some say that his battles with depression began when his good friend John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982. Apparently the battle raged on for the rest of his life until he couldn’t cope with life any longer.
On the surface, it’s hard to comprehend how someone so talented, successful, well-respected and wealthy would ever kill themselves. It speaks to the debilitating power of depression, as deadly a disease as there is in this world.
For the record, my favorite Williams movies are Dead Poet’s Society, and Moscow on the Hudson.“Oh Captain, my captain” May he rest in peace.