Why do people who seem to have it all take their own lives? We ask that as we mourn the death of the brilliant Robin Williams. He had a loving family, a great, but shrinking career, and more than enough money. But addiction and depression do not discriminate among the haves and have nots.
I’ve had the amazing experience of producing TV shows where Robin Williams was a guest; always beyond funny, self-effacing at times and the consummate showman. But behind the curtain lived a man who faced demons none of us could imagine existed.
Celebrity pundits contemplate the level of depression Mr. Williams may have lived with. Depression is a killer unless the victim chooses to get help. It is an equal-opportunity disease that affects many in varying degrees.
Robin Williams was a master at self –deprecation; making fun of his heart disease on talk shows, his earlier rehab treatment (stating that he chose a facility close to wine country so he had options), saying his GPS took him to the Golden State Bridge on it’s own, questioning whether his car had seen has most recent films? But depression is never funny and not easy to share. No one wants to hear that his or her favorite funny man is depressed. It is also not true that comedians are all depressed behind the scenes as alluded to by various TV shrinks. The true fact is that they may just not be funny in their real lives. That does not mean they are “sad clowns, laughing on the outside while being devoured on the inside by insecurity and self-destructive impulses.” Many are creative comedic writers who just like the stage. Remember, they are performers. They have an act and most pretty much follow a script. Williams’ genius came in that he could make anything funny. I remember on Good Morning America when he decided to displace one of our camera operators and took over for the morning. He was spontaneous and hilarious for two straight hours. That was his game face. Afterwards, he became Mr. Williams.
Having worked in rehab facilities, I found that, unfortunately, some therapists are not looking at the depression that brings on the addiction. They focus purely on the addiction and help the client maintain sobriety for 30, 60, sometimes 90 days in a safe environment. But it is the depression that knocks one out and could be the reason for the high recidivism rate.
Alcohol is a major depressant and therefore causes depression. Depression leads one to try to self-soothe with alcohol. It is a vicious cycle. And now let’s add the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. Sounds like Mr. Williams was carrying around a 500-pound sack of horribleness. But those with Parkinson’s can often live a relatively healthy existence for more than 20 years. With three children in his life, were they not worth living for?
Suicide has another side to it. Yes, it is pathetically and globally sad, but the real victims of suicide are those left behind. I have been one of those victims and remain both angry and sad to this day. I find suicide selfish. There is help for depression. There is help for addiction. There is help for Parkinson’s. In the case of Robin Williams, while maybe not on the top of the marquee, there were many roles still to be played and ways he could have given back by teaching or heading fund-raisers or lending his celebrity to any number of causes. And perhaps his biggest roles were those of spouse and parent. I am not saying he did not do all that throughout his personal life and career. But it did not have to stop. And neither did he. My heart goes out to his family and friends, his ardent fans and co-workers who sit stupefied by the loss.