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Ed Driscoll

Reality, What a Concept

August 11th, 2014 - 7:09 pm

RIP, Robin Williams. When my wife and I were driving to an early dinner this afternoon, the DJ on one of the local FM stations said somewhat cryptically as a song was fading out, “If you’d like to express your thoughts about Robin Williams, please visit our Facebook page,” before going into a commercial. My wife and I looked at each other said, “Uh-oh.” I fired up my tablet, and saw the news:

According to police in Marin County, California, Williams was found “unconscious and not breathing” just before noon Tuesday inside his home in Tiburon, Calif., following a 911 phone call. He was pronounced dead at 12:02 p.m. after emergency personnel arrived. They added that the actor was last seen alive at 10 p.m. Sunday.

An investigation into the cause of the death is under way, but “the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” A forensic examination is scheduled for Tuesday, along with a press conference that will be held at 11 a.m. in San Rafael, Calif.

Williams’ publicist Mara Buxbaum told The Hollywood Reporter: “Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

In the 1980s and the naughts, Williams relied upon reactionary GOP bashing in his stand-up routine, but the memories of his initial apolitical manic appearances on Johnny Carson, on Mork and Mindy, and on his first comedy album, Reality, What a Conceptm are indelible, as Williams, Steve Martin, and Saturday Night Live defined the late 1970s comedic zeitgeist. Sadly, that album isn’t online, and currently goes for fur sink money on Amazon, to mix a metaphor from Williams’ peer, Steve Martin. (I wore the grooves out of the album when it debuted; a few years ago, I downloaded it from YouTube; I can pretty much do the routines word for word when I listen to it), but this later standup routine from the early 1980s is online — and possibly prophetic:

Williams “suffered a lifelong struggle with depression, alcohol and drugs,” Nikki Finke writes:

After starting his battle with addiction in the 1970s he once explained it this way: “Cocaine for me was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down.” He went on and off treatment for the next two decades, then he quit cold turkey. But then he fell off the wagon and famously went to rehab in 2005. In late June of this year, he checked himself into the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center near Lindstrom, Minnesota, to avoid falling off the wagon again. “After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud,” the actor’s rep said at the time. Williams died with four movies coming out: Boulevard, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, Night At The Museum 3, and Merry Friggin’ Christmas , for which his co-star Joel McHale told the press in July that Williams was fighting to get his life back on track: “He wore his struggles and sobriety and was very up front and candid about what he has gone through. I know he is a man who likes to win and be healthy. So him going back to rehab, I pray it all works out.”

Williams’ career spans several decades, but he reached superstardom in the late 1970s, the very end of the era of mass media, when there were still only three broadcast TV channels; as we move further into the 21st century, there will be fewer and fewer performers who aren’t in a narrow-casted showbiz niche.

It’s difficult to understand what demons could lead Robin Williams to suicide, given that while Williams’ TV series on CBS had been recently cancelled, between standup, movies, and TV, he likely could have made an extremely good living for himself for as long as he wanted. I remember hearing an interview 20 years ago with business consultant Dan Kennedy, who had just shot an infomercial featuring Joan Rivers. He said Rivers used a Yiddish analogy: if everybody could hang their problems on a communal washline as if they were laundry, you’d gladly take yours back and let the rest of the world keep theirs. I’m eager to hear what drove Williams to suicide, given that he had already achieved legendary status in TV, movies, and standup comedy.

Update:

As Moe Lane writes, “Depression is a horrid thing, and it’s hard to see somebody else succumb to it. If you suffer from it, please don’t be afraid to seek treatment. All human life has worth.”

More: Damn straight (to both tweets):

Oh, and don’t ever change, you ghouls at the House of Stephanopoulos and Rosie O’Donnell.

Update (8/12/14): According to Radar Online, Williams had severe cashflow issues, related to leading the showbiz lifestyle and his multiple alimonies. And while I know that Williams has had a reputation dating back to the late 1970s or early 1980s of “borrowing” other comedians’ riffs, Kathy Shaidle links to I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy’s Golden Era at Google books. According to author William Knoedelseder, even the title of Williams’ first album, used in my headline above, was lifted from fellow comedian Charles Fleischer, who would later become famous in his own right as the voice of Roger Rabbit.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"Battle with substance abuse".

Hm.

One has to make a personal choice to walk into the lion's den of addictive drugs. That is, unless prescribed by a doctor as in the case for pain killers.

But cocaine, heroine, etc. well, sorry. I've no sympathy.

Yes, it's sad. It always is. But please frame it properly; It's not a "battle worthy of sympathy", it is a personal choice that invariably leads to self-destruction.

Put another way: So, Williams decided that, through his incredible personal insecurity, which had him feeling he had to be "on" all the time, turned to drugs to alleviate this insecurity and to feel "normal".

Bad idea. Stupid idea but his idea nonetheless. Thus, it resulted in the world being deprived of Robin Williams. Taken from that viewpoint, perhaps even a little selfish. But he didn't owe us anything, nor did I owe him one blessed thing.

Extraordinarily funny. Ask anyone though and you'll find that it was likely a sign of his extraordinary dysfunctionality in many other ways. Truly gifted, truly superlative in many ways but it's an act we've witnessed throughout history. Van Gogh comes to mind.

So many other talented souls. The torture is internal. The torture is not easily understood by those of us untalented types. They see the world differently and are exceptional at letting us see it through their lens.

But personal choices and self-destruction are often the end result. Sure, I am saddened by it but because he chose self-destruction rather than fight the good fight. And....maybe....who's to say he wasn't, in his own way?

I realize that may seem contradictory but life is always about choices. He could not maintain a personal relationship at all. This is familiar territory we've all heard and seen over and over and over. Michael Jackson, John Belushi, Maybe even Elvis.

The self-destructive path leads to obvious results. I do not have sympathy except that I am saddened he didn't choose a different direction.

He destroyed himself.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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A famous actress once said, "I feel like this present [referring to an item at a party]". The item was all beautifully wrapped on the outside, but empty on the inside. The Christian life is the opposite. The Psalmist writes, "my cup overflows". That's what the Christian life is supposed to be: overflowing. Many people equate worldly success with life success, because they forget life is supposed to be lived from the inside-out, from the top-down. Or, they never knew.

When I was in the hospital for 6 weeks, at 3 weeks, i started to have this feeling that my mind was splitting. I felt like i was going insane. Then, i heard these words: "start putting it all back together." This peace came over me. This warmth from head over my shoulders, and I was ok. It was like Jesus was next to me saying to the storm: "Peace, be still." And the waters were calm. Only, he spoke to my situation.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fame and money don’t equal contentment, apparently, and certainly not happiness.

14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
"... he likely could have made an extremely good living for himself for as long as he wanted. . . he had already achieved legendary status in TV, movies, and standup comedy."

Emptiness. If an intense and driven man "makes it" and finds it unfulfilling then what is there to look forward to? "Making a living"? I suspect he stopped even thinking in such terms years ago. The quiet life, the private life -- the places where most of us find our greatest satisfaction --had he ever had such? Picture the world of his mind if what came out of his mouth was in any way a reflection of what was within.

The loss of such a talent touches all of us. Yet more so the realization that even for those who matter to us -- be they a larger than life personality, known and "loved" by all, or a small 'nobody' -- we really don't know what pain the people around us are bearing day by day.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world,
and lose his own soul?"--Mark 8:36

"Holy God, Holy Immortal One... have mercy on us and on the whole world."
--Chaplet of Divine Mercy
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
We all have are own demons to deal with. Some are more serious than others. It's truly a shame because he was such a multi-talented performer. I once heard Jonathan Winters say that if they took the out takes from the one season that the two of them did on Mork and Mindy it would have been hilarious on it's own. Nanu, Nanu!
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Battle with substance abuse".

Hm.

One has to make a personal choice to walk into the lion's den of addictive drugs. That is, unless prescribed by a doctor as in the case for pain killers.

But cocaine, heroine, etc. well, sorry. I've no sympathy.

Yes, it's sad. It always is. But please frame it properly; It's not a "battle worthy of sympathy", it is a personal choice that invariably leads to self-destruction.

Put another way: So, Williams decided that, through his incredible personal insecurity, which had him feeling he had to be "on" all the time, turned to drugs to alleviate this insecurity and to feel "normal".

Bad idea. Stupid idea but his idea nonetheless. Thus, it resulted in the world being deprived of Robin Williams. Taken from that viewpoint, perhaps even a little selfish. But he didn't owe us anything, nor did I owe him one blessed thing.

Extraordinarily funny. Ask anyone though and you'll find that it was likely a sign of his extraordinary dysfunctionality in many other ways. Truly gifted, truly superlative in many ways but it's an act we've witnessed throughout history. Van Gogh comes to mind.

So many other talented souls. The torture is internal. The torture is not easily understood by those of us untalented types. They see the world differently and are exceptional at letting us see it through their lens.

But personal choices and self-destruction are often the end result. Sure, I am saddened by it but because he chose self-destruction rather than fight the good fight. And....maybe....who's to say he wasn't, in his own way?

I realize that may seem contradictory but life is always about choices. He could not maintain a personal relationship at all. This is familiar territory we've all heard and seen over and over and over. Michael Jackson, John Belushi, Maybe even Elvis.

The self-destructive path leads to obvious results. I do not have sympathy except that I am saddened he didn't choose a different direction.

He destroyed himself.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
If only those who emulate celebrities, including their drug use, could learn a lesson from this tragic end to a productive life - but they never do. RIP, Mr. Williams.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Williams apparently was one of those performers who always had to be on (Jonathan Winters -- who he was most compared to -- was the same way and also suffered from manic-depressive problems at times). My only contact with him, which kind of drives home the 'always on' point, was actually getting off the subway to meet a friend at the Hayden Planetarium in New York about 15 years ago and seeing Williams basically doing a routine for the token clerk at the 81st Street station.

(Comedy writer Mark Evanier has a couple of posts up tonight on Williams, both the good -- http://www.newsfromme.com/2014/08/11/more-on-robin/ -- and the somewhat bad -- http://www.newsfromme.com/2014/08/11/robin-williams-r-p/ -- since being on all the time isn't the same as being original all the time.)
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
I always fear for performers who end up being expected to act a certain way always. Chris Farley was expected to be the way over the top fat kid about to have a heart attack. If he lost weight, would he still have a job? Could Belushi make a living as a serious actor, or did he have to stay in a perpetual party? It has to be a stressful thing trying to maintain an image. Who can be funny all the time? Robin Williams gave me some laughs and I'll miss him, requiescat in pace.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
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