© 2014 by H.B. Koplowitz
I first heard about Robin Williams’ suicide from CNN’s smarmy Don Lemon, which made the news even more depressing. The world may be burning, but the latest induction into the Dead Comics Society soon took over the national consciousness, from cable news channels to the Twittersphere. Comic, actor, philanthropist, sometime substance abuser and full-time manic-depressive, from his most intimate friends and family to his legions of fans, people can’t help but wonder why such a beloved and talented genius would choose to check out now. The consensus is that his “demons” of depression got the best of him, and that more should be done to ensure that others don’t follow his path. But in the case of some celebrities, like Elvis and Marilyn, premature death can be a good career move. And there’s something to be said for controlling the time and place of one’s own demise, for going out on top. Especially when one is getting older.
Some have said Williams “was just 63 years old,” stretching the cliche well beyond reason. Sixty-three is a different kind of just, as in just plain old, well past the half-century mark, into the fourth quarter, and a lot older than most homo sapiens survived throughout history. I say this from the perspective of someone who was also born in 1951. Williams was a bigger man than I in every way I know of, except for one. He may have been more talented, loved, rich and famous, but when it came to age, we were tied.
I won’t presume to feel Williams’ pain, so speaking for myself, I’ll never run faster, jump higher, look better, be healthier, feel as passionate or have better sex than during my youth, which is as long gone as the ’60s, the 1960s, that is. With the passage of time, guilts, regrets, obligations, lost loves, lost friends, and mental and physical diminishments accumulate like barnacles, bogging down the soul. And it gets ever harder to outdo one’s former self.
In addition to Williams’ past upheavals in his personal life, his battles with drug and alcohol abuse and his 2009 heart surgery, Fox 411 reported he was haunted by the deaths of his friends Christopher Reeve, Andy Kaufman and John Belushi, and that he was in a funk about a faltering career. His latest comedy, “Angriest Man in Brooklyn” opened in May but quickly went to DVD. That same month, CBS canceled his TV comeback “The Crazy Ones” after a single season. In a way, “Crazy” attempted to recapture the magic of “Mork and Mindy” (1978-82), but he had outgrown the role, and it was painful to watch. After a few episodes I tuned out, as did most other viewers.
But his career was hardly over. Newser reports he will be in no fewer than four upcoming films: “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” a road-trip film about a dysfunctional family; “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” in which he reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt; “Boulevard,” a drama in which he plays a married man involved with a street hustler; and he will voice a dog in “Absolutely Anything,” a comedy about a teacher who gets supernatural powers from aliens. A sequel to “Mrs. Doubtfire” was also in development, but will probably be scrapped, according to Variety.
There’s been a lot of talk about suicide prevention, like early intervention, better recognition and more treatment for depression. But some treatments, like hospitalization, shock therapy and pills, are as depressing as depression. I can’t imagine Williams being as creative or happy on, say, Paxil. Some schizophrenics take “vacations” from their meds just to feel again. No pain, no gain. No agony, no ecstasy.
Teen suicide is tragic and stupid, because there’s no telling what the future may hold. But as “When I’m 64” becomes more than a song, the future begins to narrow. Williams lived a fuller life than most of us could ever dream, and achieved in one truncated lifetime more than most of us could accomplish in a dozen. He surely had more great performances in him, but he had brought so much joy to the world already. It’s selfish to expect any more from him. Sooner or later, our bodies tell us when we’ve had enough, and sometimes our minds do, too. Some people age more gracefully than others, Lauren Bacall certainly being one. Again, I have no idea why Robin Williams did what he did. All I know is that depression plus aging can be a drag.
A day after this was written, Williams’ family disclosed he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.