Oh 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.
Another account goes as follows:
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.