Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

On August 11th

On August 11th, my heart broke.

It was about 8:30pm, and my husband and I were watching some TV show that I now cannot remember.  During the commercial break a quick blurb from a news anchor of the upcoming headlines yielded this: “…and coming up, authorities have confirmed that the Oscar-winning actor and comedian, Robin Williams, has been found dead in his home at the age of 63 by an apparent suicide by asphyxiation.”

In a gruesome Macaulay Culkin impression, I gasped, slapped both hands over my face, and froze.  I stayed like that for perhaps a full minute, and then I felt it—I think I actually felt my heart snap wetly in two.  ROBIN WILLIAMS is DEAD.  By an apparent suicide.  It was, and is, absolutely incomprehensible that this man no longer walks the earth.

Immediately Facebook flooded with pictures, stories, quotes, and sympathies.  The whole world, it seemed, felt the same way I did.  A switch flipped.  The balloon popped.  What kind of cliché can you assign to this? Because there’s no way you can ever really describe it.  Someone that you have grown up with, someone that you’ve watched and admired and who made you giggle helplessly in your yellow Mork and Mindy nightie…that person is dead.  But I don’t know him—that’s the rub of it. I don’t really know him.  He was a person, and a father, and a husband, and he has ended his life in his own home.

I read later that he was found with “superficial” cuts in his left wrist and a small pocket knife on the floor next to him. Ultimately though, his method of refuge was hanging himself.  I could not help but shudder as I read this and begin crying again as I thought of this beautiful man trying to slice his wrists with a pocket knife, giving up, and then (frantically?) grabbing a belt and looping it over his closet door.  Which unfortunately worked.

So I’ve been trying to make sense of my feelings since this disaster.  And make no bones about it, it is a disaster of epic proportions when a man as talented and loved as this feels he is better off NOT amongst those that love him.  And he’s not the only one–we all know there are millions around us just like this.  Then yesterday I came across an article written by Russell Brand—a tribute to Robin Williams.  It is incredibly well written, and it seems to perfectly encapsulate how the world is feeling about this, deep down.  If you have not yet read it, please do yourself a big favor and do so.  I don’t think anyone could have done better.  It spurred me to write what I’m writing now, despite the fact that I know I’ll never come close to Brand’s sentiments.  I’m still walking around with this weight and this terrible ache, and I guess that the only way to relieve it is to analyze it, in true Virgo, left-brain fashion.  Why do I care so much about Robin Williams in particular? Here’s the meager result of these ponderings.

Robin Williams gave us everything.  He gave us EVERYTHING that he had.  He gave us his humor, his pain, his vulnerability, his mental illness, and his anger.  In acting classes they’re always telling us to tell the truth, be vulnerable, to let our unique light shine through.  If that is the case, then was there ever an actor more gifted than Robin Williams? I think he spouted the awful truth,  and we greedily lapped it up.  His pain at being in this world was our relief from it.  And I took him for granted.  I don’t think I ever contemplated a world without Robin Williams, because he’s been there since I was born in September of 1978 (incidentally when Mork and Mindy first aired), and despite his issues with drugs and alcohol, I always just sort of felt that he was okay—that he’d made it through.  Brand, who certainly has fought off his share of addictions, muses, “I thought that this articulate acknowledgement (of his mental illness and addiction) amounted to a kind of vaccine against the return of such diseased thinking, which has proven to be hopelessly naïve.” I as an audience member was complacent as I let him make me laugh.  Artistic genius comes with that territory, doesn’t it? I see now that his comedic genius was a snake eating its own tail.  He fed off the adulation, perhaps addictively, and though entertaining others may have kept his demons temporarily at bay, the constant performing may also have exhausted him, sucked him dry, eaten him whole, cliché, cliché.  What a codependent relationship we have with our geniuses.

I met him once, on the set of License to Wed, where I’d been hired as a hand double.  I was talking with his practically life-long stand in, the lovely and kind Adam Bryant, who my prayers now go out to, as I’m sure he’s suffering greatly.  According to Adam, I apparently am the spitting image of Pam Dawber, which I didn’t see then and still don’t see now.  Adam begged me to come “show” Mr. Williams.  I was mortified, but Adam dragged me over to this live wire of a legend and said, “Robin, look at her! Who does she remind you of?” Those famous, blue, blue eyes shot over me, settled on my face, and then popped open.  He screamed, “AAAAUUUUUGHH Oh my GOD!!! She’s BACK!!! SHE’S HERE!!! AAAAAUUUUGGGHHHHH!!!!!”

I could do nothing but stand there with this great, goofy grin on my face, wishing I could sink into the floor.  This caused a fresh outburst of “OH JESUS, EVEN HER SMILE, oh my GOD, she RETURNS!!!” and with that, he screamed and ran around the room, flailing his arms.  I began to wonder if the rumors at the time were true about him doing coke again—he was positively fizzing, for Christ’s sake.  But I later realized after watching him work tirelessly all day, and after watching him bubbling over in interviews, and after watching him monopolize the stage on clips of Whose Line is it Anyway that this man was just. ALWAYS. ON.  Maniacally on.  Desperately on.  Now in hindsight, I picture him when there was no one around to entertain.  I imagine him going into his dressing room or getting into a car, shutting the door, feeling the silence of the space, and heaving a leaden sigh, half relieved, half petrified at being alone.  It must have been so torturous, feeling that way—like performing was aiding and destroying him all at once.

And maybe that’s why there’s a slight tinge of guilt in all of this.  I knew, as Brand claims to have known even as a young child, that “this burbling and manic man-child that I watched on the box on my Nan’s front room floor…struggled with mental illness and addiction.”  I knew what was happening within him, because he was so open about it, and yet I needed him to keep going, to keep making me laugh. He was the world’s court jester.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I do not want to imply that we as audiences are responsible for this.  I am simply confessing that there is some residual, self-imposed guilt occurring here, whether founded or unfounded, despite knowing that his knowing that we all loved him didn’t make a damned bit of difference.  Such is the heart of mental illness and addiction.  And I want to hammer home that this man strove to tell the truth.  And I loved him and I loved his art passionately for it.  And when he could not take it any longer, he ended his own life, and now we are all traumatized.  To quote Brand (again, but he is the catalyst for this post), “is it melancholy to think that a world that he can’t live in must be broken?” His family has now let it be known that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and was struggling with the diagnosis.  This may have been the final straw, but I don’t feel for a second like it was the primary reason he took himself out of the picture.

I spent the day watching all of my favorite Robin Williams movies.  I let my eyes linger on his familiar face, the crows’ feet that crinkled his eyes when he smiled, the barrel-chested figure, the hairy arms,  the impish twinkle here, the forlorn stare of utter sadness there.  I felt like I was never going to see him again, but of course he is memorialized in a plethora of films.  By the way, if you haven’t seen this man’s filmography, give it a look—it’s staggering.  Most actors swoon with fatigue at doing more than two films a year.  Since 1977 without pause, Robin Williams has averaged almost three films per year BEFORE you count his TV shows, stand-up comedy, charity work, and appearances.  Staggering.

 

Robin McLaurin Williams, thank you.  Thank you for letting us all inside and letting us forget our own miseries while you fought with your own.  I know you’re at peace now.  Look on us all with that smile we’ll never forget and know that we loved you dearly.

robin-williams1

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