Robin Williams (1951-2014)

The actor and comic died yesterday, an apparent suicide, the cause of death whose reasons are often completely inscrutable. In his case, he apparently suffered from depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol, a deadly combination.

I found his live appearances somewhat exhausting to follow since he spoke and free-associated so rapidly that you always felt you were falling further and further behind as you tried to catch the allusions and impersonations. He was easier to take in scripted shows where he was forced to slow down. I liked him best in his role as the genie in Aladdin but in reading the various articles following his death, I was struck by the lack of consensus about which films the authors liked the most. That is a tribute to his range as an actor.

He was the son of an Episcopalian father and devout Christian Scientist mother but he seems to have not been religious himself, maybe even an atheist. Here he is doing a stand-up routine about religion.


  1. Ed says

    As someone who suffers from serious depression, has attempted suicide, been hospitalized a couple times, take tons of medicine and often find great comfort in imagining that I will die soon, I was offended by Myers` article.

    Yes, it is shameful that the media ignores stories like the innocent young black man killed by the police (a horribly common event), but ****could he have not exploited a story of mental illness to illustrate the point!!?? *** The media is filled with examples of genuinely meaningless and trivial fluff which he could have used to better effect.

    To be sure that I’m clear—I agree with his basic point, but see the use of William’s death in making it as tasteless and hurtful.

    Thank you for your sensitive treatment of the issue on this blog.

  2. estraven says

    I’m not going to comment on PZ’s post. I AM going to report that I followed a link elsewhere to a blog that had a very nasty piece on Williams and his “selfishness” in committing suicide. The blogger had no clue as to what depression really is. When I told him so, and mentioned my own past diagnosis of being clinically depressed, he told me, basically, to stop whining and said “Just go kill yourself, then.” This blogger felt that because Williams was rich and famous, he couldn’t possibly have a reason to want to die. But depression isn’t about money or celebrity. Depression is a horrible black vortex pulling you down and you’re not made immune to that by being wealthy or having achieved things or being famous. I really am baffled as to why someone would tell a person who’s admitted to having had serious depression to “go kill yourself.”

  3. hyphenman says

    @ estraven No. 4

    That’s true. You’re absolutely correct. Some people make horrible, ignorant statements because they are simply assholes.

    PZ has made it clear that he wasn’t writing about Robin Williams’ suicide, but rather how the media frenzy surrounding this single act (sadly, I don’t know, does anyone know, how many other individuals chose to end their lives last Monday?) because a person was famous.

    I’ve written a bit of late on the topic of Brain Wellness (I find mental illness insufficient because it implies that somehow the mind is separate from the brain and therefore is not in the category of heart disease or other illnesses.)

    Those who have never experienced clinical depression, or personally known someone who does, very often have the misconception that the malady is just a matter of being really, really sad and that if you just cheer up life will be good.

    I am sorry for Williams family and those who loved him and I confess that I was too quick to hijack this thread.

    Do all that you can to make today a better day,


  4. Mano Singham says

    I realized some time ago that you cannot put yourself into the mind of someone else and really understand what they are going through, so giving people with depression advice on how to ‘snap out of it’, even if well-intentioned, is of little use.

    Maybe the best thing to do is to pass on to them this letter written by Stephen Fry (who suffers from depression and once tried to kill himself) to a stranger who wrote to him out of desperation asking for help with her own depression.

  5. estraven says

    I saw that letter, Mano, and was impressed by the compassion and understanding on Mr. Fry’s part. Of course, he’s been there himself, but it was wonderful that he made the effort for the sake of this woman.

  6. lorn says

    I heard on NPR today that Robin William’s wife related that he was suffering anxiety, and the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but that he was sober.

    Yesterday night I spent some time watching some of his interviews and stand-up comedy performances. Even after twenty or thirty years for some of them they hold up well.

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