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10 Provocative Perspectives on the Death of Robin Williams

The suicide of the boomer generation's greatest comedic talent inspired a wide range of responses across the religious, cultural, and scientific realms.

Dave Swindle


August 18, 2014 - 3:20 pm
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1. Matt Walsh at his eponymous blog: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice

I’m not normally one to write a blog post about a dead celebrity, but then I suppose there is no such thing.

There are only living celebrities, not dead ones. In death, wealth and prestige decay and we are brought into a new reality, the only reality there is or ever was — one which, for much better or much worse, doesn’t care at all about our popularity or our money.

The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it.


A terrible, monstrous atrocity. It disturbs me in a deep, visceral, indescribable way. Of course it disturbs most people, I would assume. Indeed, we should fear the day when we wake up and decide we aren’t disturbed by it anymore.


We tend to look for the easiest answers. It makes us feel better to say that depression is only a disease and that there is no will and choice in suicide, as if a person who kills themselves is as much a victim as someone who succumbs to leukemia.

2. Jim Geraghty at National Review: “Robin Williams and Our Strange Times: Does our society set the stage for depression?”

The constant online presence would lead to a world of nonstop instant reaction, where everyone could immediately transmit the first thought that popped into his head in response to news. Everyone’s first reaction would become his defining reaction, particularly if it’s dumb or knee-jerk. If it was racist, sexist, hateful, or obnoxious, even better. Those horrified would then share and retweet it to their friends and followers, spreading the perception that the world was overpopulated with hateful idiots, and that average Americans — or average human beings! – were rather nasty, ignorant creatures unworthy of respect or affection. Many people would quickly and easily forget that the people who comment on Internet websites represent a small slice of the population, a fraction predisposed to getting pleasure from posting shocking, obnoxious, or hateful material.

The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! – would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.

3. Bryan Preston at the PJ Tatler responding to Walsh: “Chasing Shadows in the Death of Robin Williams”

Anyone who has seen true mental illness up close knows that the idea of choice gets bent and blurred.

I’ve seen Alzheimer’s Disease up close. It’s not depression, but it is a different disease of the same organ, the brain. Alzheimer’s sufferers do not choose to lurch from the present to three decades into the past in an instant. They don’t choose to forget who you are, what your name is, who they are, where they are, everything they have ever known and everyone they have ever loved. They don’t choose to become hostile to those they love who are caring for them. They are not choosing any of that. Yet what is happening in their brains impacts their behavior and can be incredibly frustrating and crushing for their loved ones. It’s heart-breaking, one of the most heart-breaking experiences a person can experience.

There is no more choice in that than there is choice to come down with cancers unrelated to behavior. There is no more choice in that than the choice to grow old, see your organs wink out one by one, as you approach the end. Did the boy who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an organ disease which will probably kill him in his 20s, choose that? Depression, like Alzheimer’s, is a disease of an organ, the brain. Where choice begins and ends in the mind of someone with clinical depression is quite blurry. I don’t pretend to know where it is. Depression is the ultimate mind game, only your own brain is working deviously against itself.

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All Comments   (12)
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There is a biological component to mental illness and depression because a truly healthy diet helps. However, drugs cannot help in any real sense even if they temporarily lift mood artificially, and they are proven to increase suicical and violent tendencies. The problem with 'getting help' is that you will virtually always be pushed to take drugs. I would love to know what Robin was on and if that may have contributed, since I have been hostpitalized and on these drugs and the only time I have come close to feeling suicidal was as a result of the side effects. We know he struggled with addiction to substances that alter brain chemistry. Psych drugs are just as addictive as street drugs and mess with your brain chemistry and bodily health too, and not in a good way. The best help is to get to the bottom of the emotional and spiritual problems. It's already been scientifically proven that emotional states affect physical states. So even if we someday track down a real 'chemical imbalance' it is just as likely to be caused by the emotional trauma as to be itself the cause of anything. Serious depression has to be a result of a vicious cycle of a combination of factors that of course becomes difficult to break out of, as they all contribute to a downward spiral. Physical help should be exercise outside and proper diet instead of drugs that screw up brain chemistry more. We now know that most Americans have terrible gut health and that the gut is essential in regulating brain chemistry. Practical life help, friendship, and fruitful counselling are essential for full recovery.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't believe depression is genetic or neurological or biological--I don't believe there is a depression gene. It is however a physiological condition caused by some chemical imbalance.

Usually, it occurs after a severe trauma or loss of a loved one or an incurable disease, something like that.

I suffered from intense depression following a car wreck when I was a teenager. Some punk kid stole a stop sign and I got blindsided by a truck while I was taking a short cut home after work. The impact of the collision knocked me from the driver's seat, out the passenger window, about 40 feet through the air, and my car rolled over three times and landed on top of me. My best friend died as the car rolled over; his neck was broken by the rear view mirror. I was in a coma for two weeks and had to undergo multiple surgeries.

So yeah I was depressed. The constant pain, the guilt, the long recovery, I honestly thought I coudn't go and contemplated suicide. I even went so far as to put a rope around my neck to hang myself with. But then I thought of my mother who slept on the emergency room floor for thirteen nights and what it would do to her if I killed myself. So I decided to tough it out, which wasn't easy.

I do believe that suicide is the one unforgivable sin. However, I also believe in a loving God. And I hope that he would show mercy on those who took their own lives out of hopelessness and pain or terminal disease.

As for Robin Williams, he tried to revive his standup career five years ago, but the tour had to be cancelled when he was hospitalized with a heart condition that required surgery. Afterwards he said it was the first time in his life that he felt dead inside. I think that was the beginning of the end for him. He no longer could do what he loved, but he kept working, completing four films that have yet to be released. He returned to television, but his show was cancelled after one season.

He went into rehab for cocaine and alocohol addiction. And then was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. While asset rich, with a net worth of $50 million, he was cash poor. His income was declining, but his expenses were high. He tried to sell his ranch in Napa because he no longer could afford it, but was unable to find a buyer.

So, when you put all that together--heart surgery, failing health, addiction, Parkinson's, high expenses with less income--coupled with not being able to do standup and less desirable roles, it's easy to see why he fell into a deep depression. He suffered from bipolar disorder, he was a manic-depressive, and for someone with that condition depression is debilitating.

In the end, he must have felt hopeless, as if he could no longer go on. And rather than waste away from a terminal disease, he decided to take his own life. Sadly and tragicly, he simply no longer wanted to live, because he didn't feel alive anymore.

May God have mercy on his tortured soul.

27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well said. That looks like a very good summary.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
I could do without the photo of the woman with a gun in her mouth since that's how my friend killed herself. Way to go, Dave.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Are you requesting that I remove the image? Or should I have put up a "trigger warning" at the start of the article?
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are all right, and you're all wrong. Depression is everything to some and nothing to others. It is the most intensely personal thing a human being can experience. It can't be explained or denied. It can't be cured. You either figure out how to live with it or you don't, but each must find his own path. You may walk alone, you may walk with God, or you may walk with medication, or you may take the final path, but walk you must.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment

Read about it. That is all.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
These issues come too close to the "soul" (not intended as sneer quotes) for a lot of SoCon Christians to be comfortable with. Suicide is a sin in Christianity, and what us worse, since it is a terminal act, it is not subject to forgiveness or absolution. Because of this, if it us biological, if you don't have a choice, then scripture is wrong or else God is pitilessly unfair.

I like to think that God can always forgive, and always knows when the act was disease rather than narcissistic ideation and a desire to hurt others. That said, why would you complicate revealed truth? If the proscription makes falable humans more likely to respond in a way to prevent suicide so much the better, and if exceptions need to be made, neither our permission nor understanding are required.

It would have been better if someone had stopped Robin Williams. That they did not and he ended his life in this way is not the last word. We don't get that.

I'd note that he must have thought about these ideas. He made a movie about a suicide and the afterlife. It went pretty hard on suicides as I recall.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Suicide is a sin in Christianity

Provide a scriptural reference to back this up (chapter : verse).

By the way, not all suicides are the same. Start thinking.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus stated that when life loses meaning, suicide is a reasonable option. Noted psychiatrist and author Dr. Viktor Frankl, who worked many years with suicidal patients, confirmed this idea. However, what gives life meaning is unique to each individual.

One of my wife's techniques as a psychiatric crisis interviewer is to ask, "Is there anyone that you care about, or that cares about you?" If they say "Yes", she can relax a little since she knows the odds are they won't commit suicide, because they have someone in their life who gives it meaning.

Interestingly, antidepressants have been shown to be effective based on their placebo effect. In other words, patients believe the drugs help them, but the effect cannot be explained by changes in biochemistry.

In summary, having meaning in one's life and believing that you can be helped goes a long way in preventing suicide.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
It just seems to be tearing PJM apart. Let it go. He's gone. Buried quietly. Live well. Be good to others and yourself.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
>>Live well. Be good to others and yourself.

Another instance of the essence distilled.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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