Debate Magazine

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

Rest in peace, Robin Williams

We’re all in shock over actor-comedian Robin Williams’ death at age 63 by apparent suicide.

Yesterday, Williams was found in his Tiburon home by family members, who called for help at 11:55 a.m. He was pronounced dead at his home.

Tiburon is a town in Marin County near San Francisco. Unlike many others in the Hollywood “entertainment” industry, Williams deliberately chose to live in San Francisco, far from the glitz of Hollywood. Unlike many Hollywood stars, Robin Williams did not put on airs but treated ordinary people with kindness and consideration.

The Marin County coroner’s office has not made any conclusions about Williams’ cause of death, but preliminary findings indicated that Williams’ died of “suicide due to asphyxia,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. A final determination is still pending, after a comprehensive investigation is completed, which would typically include toxicology screenings and an assessment of Williams’ health and state of mind in the days before his death.

Williams’s press agent Mara Buxbaum said the actor had recently battled severe depression. Williams had fought cocaine and alcohol addiction but had spoken little about mental illness.

I don’t agree with his politics but I respect Robin Williams for his humanity, support of our soldiers, charity, and lack of airs.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Williams “was a loyal and compassionate advocate for all who serve this nation in uniform.” He gave freely of himself to many charity causes, including entertaining thousands of service men and women in war zones, as well as his philanthropy that helped veterans struggling with hidden wounds of war.

Here are some accounts by non-celebrities of personal encounters with this very talented and humane man:

San Francisco Chronicle‘s film critic Mick LaSalle: “I spoke to him on the phone once and then met him once in person — in 1987 — quite a while ago — backstage at a Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park.  Offstage he seemed subdued, slightly wistful, very gentle with people, very aware of the capacity of his celebrity to do damage, and very determined not to hurt anybody.  His career was exploding then.  He had already emerged as a movie star, and he was recognized as a great and important comedian.  But there was no weirdness there, no distortion about him, no sense of someone who thinks he’s better than everyone and is pretending to be a regular guy.  If anything he seemed kind of humble.”

SFC reader techGuy: “I remember going to one of the benefit shows he used to have over at Bimbo’s in the city. He would practice his new material and give the proceeds to charity. The shows were never advertised, but they sold out almost immediately after they were announced. I asked one of the waitresses what he was like. She said that he made a point of spending a few minutes with each and every person on staff. He would talk and play around with them and ended by shaking everyone’s hand and thanking them for being there. I think that part of his comedic genius was you could get a feel for his humanity both in his comic and dramatic roles. The world lost a true comedic genius and even bigger than life human being.”

SFC reader harrylime9: “I also met Williams several times and yes, he was unimpressed with his own celebrity–he was soft spoken and polite.”

PET brain scans

PET scans of the brain showing different activity levels in a person with depression, compared to a person without depression.

Despite the twinkle in his eyes, his comedic gift, and his genius-level ability for lightning-speed ad-libbing, Robin Williams’ eyes always had a sadness that we now know was due to depression.

While life sometimes gets me blue — Weltschmerz or world weariness — by the grace of God I’ve never been depressed, i.e., clinically depressed.

Depression is more than feeling sad; instead, the depressed experience intense feelings of sadness and other symptoms, such as losing interest in things you enjoy. If that low mood lingers day after day, it could signal depression. Major depression is an episode of sadness or apathy along with other symptoms that lasts at least two consecutive weeks and is severe enough to interrupt daily activities.

Depression is not a sign of weakness or a mental illness. It is a major public health problem and a treatable medical condition. Click here for information on tests for depression.

For some reason I’d always thought Robin Williams to be Jewish. So I was surprised to read his entry in Wikipedia that he was raised in and was a member of the Episcopal Church, which he once described in a comedy routine as “Catholic Lite—same rituals, half the guilt.” He authored the “Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian.”

Aside from sadness, I’m at a loss to imagine how anyone who believes in the loving and merciful Triune God can take his own life, leaving a wife and three children behind, the youngest of whom is 22.

Maybe in the darkness of hopelessness and despair, the depressed imagines he is abandoned by God. To that I say:

Fix your eyes on our suffering Lord on the crucifix. None of our suffering can ever approach His, which He willingly bore unto death because He loves us so.



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