When I heard this week that Robin Williams had taken his own life I was devastated. But I was also completely unsurprised.
The death of a celebrity can be a touchy subject; many use the opportunity to rail against the injustice that we care so much about one person’s death while thousands die in Third World countries and war-torn regions. Without dismissing those concerns, I want to simply lay them aside for a moment, and dwell on the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death.
The police currently “suspect the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia,” but naturally they will do their due diligence in the matter. For me, however, it seems a foregone conclusion. Williams has struggled with depression and addiction for many years. He had even entered a Minnesota rehabilitation centre last month to “fine-tune and focus” his sobriety after a hefty work schedule, according to Williams’ representatives. Famous the world over for being an actor and comedian, I can’t help but wonder how often Robin Williams was simply allowed to be Robin Williams.
I suffer from anxiety and depression, and my time in the spotlight has been negligible in comparison to one of the world’s funniest men. And yet I can recount several times where public attention has rendered me mentally devastated, an emotional wreck after some thoughtless comment or pressure-filled situation.
How, then, did a man like Robin Williams cope? Did he cope? Was he offered the support of friends, the time to recuperate? How much of the man we saw in public, on the silver screen, was simply a facade hiding an emotionally fragile human being who was time and time again called to be someone other than himself? Even beyond the rigour of most acting careers, Robin Williams was rarely called on simply to be an actor — but to be the funniest on film, the most outrageous on set, the most vibrant and exciting person in the room.
When did it ever stop?
When could he stop?
There will be those who attempt to place blame on those closest to Robin Williams for not intuiting his fragility. Such comments are ignorant, plain and simple. Those with depression are the best actors you will ever meet. Forced into a world which refuses to accept their frailty, they walk amongst us looking as if they have not a care in the world.
What could be done, then, for Robin Williams? I do not presume to know, guess, or even speculate. It is simply not my place.
This I’ll say though. Talk to your friends. Get inside their armour, allow them a safe place, so that they might feel free to break down.
Because if a person cannot break down, they will simply break.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Hot Gossip Italia.