Especially in his frenetic appearances on late-night TV, it was difficult watching Robin Williams. Anyone who has battled depression or had a loved one tortured by it knew that his genius came from a dark place. Depression and genius sometimes goes hand in hand and the challenge to those who fight the illness is dampening one without curtailing the other.
When a picture of him appeared on Facebook last month when he stopped into the Dairy Queen in Lindstrom around the time when he had checked back into Hazelden, the look was a familiar one. The sadness — and the utter vulnerability — could not be masked by a faint smile.
— Pioneer Press (@PioneerPress) July 2, 2014
“How much do we require of the people who entertain us and what does it take from them?” Boston Globe’s Ty Burr writes today.
When he wasn’t being funny, you could feel the gravity pulling Williams down, and I think that’s the reason a lot of us feel — as we did with Philip Seymour Hoffman and others who seem to have worn their nerves in public, as a profession — that we’ve lost someone we knew.
Well, we did know Robin Williams, it seems, because he was everywhere for a while. He drily joked in a 2010 interview about having been in eight movies in two years at one point in his career, acknowledging “this idea that you’d better keep working otherwise people will forget.”
The insecurity that all our famous people possess and desperately try to hide, Williams put out there as the thing that drove him.
In 2010, Marc Maron interviewed Williams on his podcast, WTF, which he’s made available online again.
“It changed my life,” Maron said of his time with Williams, in which he discussed his struggles.
“There was a humanity to Robin Williams,” he said. “There’s no one who wasn’t touched by him. There was nobody else like him ever.”
“With that sensitivity, with that perception, with that empathy, that with that love, that with that mental agility comes a heart too heavy to live,” he said.
Lisa Jakub was the little girl in Mrs. Doubtfire. In her online eulogy today, she remembers what happened when she was kicked out of school because she went to work on the movie.
It’s devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject.
When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and the next day, he handed me a letter that he wrote to my school.
He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.
When I told him I still didn’t think they would take me back, he said, “It’s kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth.”
The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal’s office. But they didn’t invite me to return to school.
But here’s what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.
Appropriately accompanying the many tributes to Williams today are pleas to look out for each other, to encourage the millions of people who battle depression to seek help.
Beyond those, the best way to honor him would be to be better — a lot better –at providing it to them.