My first thought on hearing the news of Robin Williams’ death was that it was shocking because he was “only” 63. Just a moment later, when it came out that he probably had killed himself, that was even more shocking.

But although it was shocking and disturbing it wasn’t so very surprising. It had been clear for a long, long time that Williams’ genius came hand in hand with some pretty formidable demons.

Williams was an overwhelming comic talent and huge personality, as well as a serious actor of considerable gifts. But still, it seems a bit much that cable news has been devoting hour after hour to Williams’ death, as though he’d been Lincoln or Churchill or some other major historic figure.

That sort of blanket coverage might have surprised Williams himself, had he known about it; after all, it’s not as though we lack for news these days. But people did love Williams, who in the old cliché made them laugh and made them cry, and was also a generous man who donated his time to many charities and entertaining the troops.

Reports are that Williams had suffered from “severe depression of late.” Severe depression is a different animal from ordinary run-of-the-mill depression, which is bad enough. Severe depression can make a person who is successful, adulated, rich, famous, and possessed of a loving family take his/her own life in a moment of terrible but hard-to-resist impulse because he/she sees no hope of respite.

We may never know what really happened with Williams. But it is tragic.

Suicides, whether famous or not, leave behind a legacy of pain for their families and friends. Williams was a man who seems to have wanted to bring joy to people instead, and mostly that’s just what he did.


[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]

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