Tuesday, August 12, 2014


August: so the month I was born now becomes the month Robin Williams died.

I read the news in an email from my buddy Charles this morning: something had happened to Robin Williams. Because I was busy hiking up Namsan with two companions when I glanced at my smartphone to check email during a short break, I didn't get to read beyond the first sentence of Charles's second paragraph: "I assume you've heard the news about Robin Williams." I hadn't, actually; Charles's missive was the first inkling I'd had that anything had happened. My hiking companions, Sean and his buddy Jeff, had also heard the news this morning right after waking up in their hotel in Itaewon, and they filled me in on what little they knew: Williams had apparently committed suicide after a long depression. Later on, when I had a chance to read both Charles's email and other news articles, I saw that the initial assessment of Williams's death was that it had been by "asphyxia," which sounds, to me, an awful lot as though Williams had hanged himself. Several of the articles I read were coy as to the specifics. I imagine we'll know more later.

Williams was a fixture of my childhood. I've said that about several dead celebrities on this blog, but he was easily one of the most impressive and influential people for me. Barbara Walters famously called Williams "a national treasure"; he was amazingly quick-witted, had an ear for accents and foreign languages, and could do improv like nobody's business. He'd had his share of haters, too, over the years, and I wonder whether their relentless negativity had anything to do with his demise.

In any event, I think the world is a dimmer, grimmer place without Robin Williams to make light of the proceedings. I didn't agree with his politics, but I couldn't help but respect his mental agility and his natural ability to make people laugh. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his role as therapist Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting"; as many have pointed out, his best work came from collaborating with directors who knew how to manage his manic tendencies. As a kid, I watched "Mork and Mindy" faithfully, and I was delighted when Williams transitioned from the small screen to the big screen. His movie career contained both hits and misses, and it's my understanding that four of his movies are still to come out. So—a bit like how Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to live on in movie roles long after his death, we have more doses of Robin Williams ahead of us. How will people see these movies and feel about them now, post mortem?

I wasn't exactly bowled over in shock when I found out Williams had apparently killed himself. The signs had been there for a while: Williams's manic persona pointed to some degree of bipolarity, and every comedian is cursed with an inner approval-seeker. When the plaudits stopped coming, when the accusers said Williams was washed up and repeating old shtick, this must have hurt him deeply ("Family Guy" was especially brutal in its lampooning of Williams). And Williams had always been forthright about his struggles with drugs and alcohol—more evidence that something was very wrong, internally speaking.

It's a shame the man is dead, and if he truly did kill himself, that's an even greater shame. I've written about suicide before (see here and scroll); no need to belabor the point here, but as Jeff sourly noted, Williams leaves behind a wife and several children. And that's a shame, too.

RIP, Mr. Williams. I'll miss your comedy. And I was never one of the haters.

UPDATE: This article, which talks about the uncomfortable level of graphic detail given at a police press conference regarding Robin Williams's suicide, seems to confirm that the cause of death was indeed hanging. Don't click the link if you feel it would be an invasion of the Williams family's privacy to learn more.


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