Oh Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! My Captain!

The news of Robin Williams’ death has led to an outpouring of grief and appreciation for the man, his talents, and his legacy of laughter.

Initial reports have stated that Mr. Williams died of an apparent suicide by asphyxiation resulting from his on-going battle with depression over continual substance addiction issues. As I’m writing this, it strikes me that  the previous sentence seems clinical, emotionally removed and impersonal – but the fact remains that a man who clearly had moments of great joy and was capable of displaying abundant love in his life was also fighting against the kind of debilitating pain that makes life seem desperate and meaningless.

While Mr. Williams’ friends within the entertainment community have delivered eloquent and moving tributes to him via various social media outlets, what has been most moving are the anecdotes shared by individual non-celebrities who report encounters with him that paint a picture of a gracious, kind man who seemed driven to try to make things better for others.

When I moved to San Francisco one of the first things I did was go to the DMV. I didn’t know they offered the option to schedule an appointment. I was waiting in line with about 40 people and in walked Robin Williams. He got in line with us and everyone went nuts. For about an hour he entertained everyone in line picking on different people as they passed. The man was a comedic genius and truly loved to entertain people. He could have scheduled an appointment but opted to be with the people. I remember thinking this is what it would be like to live in California meeting celebreties everywhere I went - boy was I disappointed. RIP Mr. Williams - you certainly were a treasure.
— DaddyRay posted this on joemygod.blogspot.com

Another account goes as follows:

This sucks. Robin Williams was an awesome guy. 17 years ago, my Dad’s dad killed my grandma and then himself in a drunken rage. We held a massive service at the church my dad’s mom attended in San Francisco. It was obviously a hard night for my dad. My parents stayed late in the city to clean things up and spend time with family. It was about 2:30 AM when we finally started making our way home, but before leaving the city, my dad wanted to stop and get a doughnut at some random doughnut shop we passed by. We all went inside, and lo and behold, Mr. Robin Williams was there, sitting in a booth eating a couple doughnuts and drinking some coffee. He noticed our well dressed, solemn looking crew walk in, and pretty quickly after we sat down to eat the delicious treats, he came walking over. Now, I admit fully that I do not remember what he said to us, but I do remember what he looked like and I remember him Introducing himself as Robin (which is my aunts name, I think thats why it caught my attention). He ended up joining my family at our table and (as my Dad always said) he just started making pleasant conversation, which quickly turned in to him making my parents smile, and soon after he had us all laughing. I couldn’t tell you what they laughed about, but I remember seeing my parents laugh and smile for the first time in weeks. My dad remembered that so fondly. He always said it was exactly what he had needed in that time, and that he appreciated the way Robin Williams went about it. It wasn’t that he was a celebrity, he was just being a nice guy who saw a bunch of sad folks and realized he could probably make a difference. And he did. I loved hearing my dad tell that story because you could tell that moment meant a lot to him. I’m sad he felt the need to go.
— TrueAmurrican on Reddit

In a 2011 interview with Diane Sawyer, Mr. Williams said, "It’s (addiction) — not caused by anything, it’s just there… It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK. Then you realize, ‘Where am I? I didn’t realize I was in Cleveland.'”

Addiction is specific and deeply painful for every individual. Depression is a complex and easily misunderstood condition. The reported combination of these twin factors in Mr. Williams’ death seems shocking and difficult to accept in the face of his public persona, which was gregarious, loopy and entertaining. However, the need for human connection – either through performance eliciting laughter on a major scale, or through small-scale acts of kindness – appears to have been Mr. Williams’ motivation in life. In this aspect, his need was universal – and a gentle reminder to everyone what it means to be alive and to live.