Thu. May 30th, 2024


The typical chorus of “why?” and “shame on him!” were all but muted by unanimous praise for Robin Williams—the joy and laughter this human genie was capable of giving his audience. When Williams told a joke he didn’t just make us smile; he pummeled us into laughing submission. He was a surreal joke machine, every bit as manic as Groucho Marx, a living cartoon character that was larger than life and far too talented to hoard all of that golden wit to himself.

We all seemed to feel if not “know” what Williams was going through. His past battles with depression were documented and his Pagliacci Sad Clown Face was always in clear view whenever the bit ended. But Williams was a wonderful drug, a habit we never wanted to kick. His corny later-life movies, his scattershot standup comedy, and his curious dramatic acting turns, they were the really good sh*t that allowed us to forget about our own problems and survive another week. Whatever was coming next, it was going to be okay, because Patch Adams, Peter Pan, and Mork were going to go through it all first and show us how to laugh in the face of danger.

What was tragic is that no one had a mind as fast as Robin Williams; who could possibly entertain him as brilliantly, as insanely, as he entertained us? Williams, much like Richard Pryor before him, was a tortured soul who pulled comedy from the depths of pain and misery. The Road Runner of Comedy, Williams ran circles around other people. He was the type of comic you couldn’t compete against, even if you were a funny guy yourself. You beheld him and let him do his thing; you instantly became the spectator. He was the commodity that we all wanted—and every studio wanted him, even the ones who promised him parts he would never actually get.

In the end, the laughter we loved him for wasn’t enough to tame his inner demons—perhaps not so coincidentally, demons that appeared most frequently in his senior years. Taking a look at Williams’ body of work (from What Dreams May Come to even his bizarre dramatic cameos on TV shows like Homicide: Life on the Street) it’s easy to see that he outgrew comedy for the sake of comedy a long time ago. He was deeper than an extended laugh. He was multidimensional beyond a 2D genie. He had a heartbreaking pathos to share, and questions of great philosophical density if only we looked beyond the big red nose.

Whether Hollywood shunned his more dramatic, human-condition type works because of his comedy background, or whether he simply couldn’t handle the emotional catharsis that method acting required (just look at some of the soul-killing, emotionally brutal work Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray have been doing lately), we may never know.

But Robin Williams like, Philip Seymour Hoffman who also died from self-inflicting wounds, fell empty inside—despite having a family, despite a world-renowned name, and despite every logical reason we gave him to stick around. He did so painfully, as authorities discovered, using a leather belt, indicating an unhealthy degree of self-loathing. Mental illness was likely the culprit, but what this entertainer may have uncovered during those harrowing last few days, may well have been the “late life crisis.” The late life depression crises of existentialism, regret, and uncertainty that makes the midlife crisis look relatively easy to sidestep.

What is one to do when all life achievements have been met? When all adulation has been paid and all points have been proven to the world? Fame and fortune are not enough to quench a restless soul. The wonderful feeling you get from entertaining others only goes so far. And while most people are content to distract themselves with hobbies, like a physical disease, late life depression can eat away at your mind, heart and soul, leaving behind only ghastly remnants of the Real You.

When the fearlessness of youth leaves you, you do have to find an outlet that makes you feel good about life, your memories and your future. More importantly, you have to find an outlet that lets you share these positive feelings with the ones you love, and even well beyond your social circle. If you don’t share your life and your wisdom in some meaningful way with others, life will feel like nothing more than vanity. Taking care of one family is not enough, as we so often see. Leaving behind a legacy, indeed something more important than laughter and beyond talent, is what’s ultimately fulfilling to performer and to spectator. You want to leave behind something lasting, something emotionally profound, and something beneficial to the next generation.

And guess what, the world needs to hear it. Overwhelmed by social, ecological and political problems, society needs prolific thinkers to open its collective mind. Personal achievement is nothing without shared experiences, without relevant subject matter, and great ideas that bring about change. Ironically, Suicide Prevention Organizations are now criticizing Williams’ tributes, suggesting that the statement, “Now you’re free, Genie” could encourage copycat suicides. However, if you recall in Aladdin genie was freed for quite a while before the movie franchise ended. He just stuck around because he enjoyed the party. Now the party is over and Robin has gone home, after doing so much to help others, including multiple donations to charity organizations. His sudden exit was secondary to his triumphant life.

And hopefully Robin Williams’ body of work has inspired millions of people to be free—to live life uninhibitedly, to live life free of curses, and to start granting more wishes to people in need.

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5 thoughts on “Robin Williams – You’re Free”
  1. I loved this man. He was a favorite actor of mine and a brilliant comedian. He will be missed by so many people. I don’t ask ‘why’ he did it or judge him for cutting life short because at one point in my life I was having suicidal thoughts too and it’s a bad place to be in. It takes over your every thought and deletes all form of reason as to why you shouldn’t do it. Thankfully, my suicide attempt was a failure and I lived to see another day. Robin was not so lucky and that is the truly sad part of this tale.

  2. This was well thought out and well written. Many people don’t understand the emotions behind once having a measure of greatness and then watching age slowly strip it away. Even as we start to lose our minds to age, some of us retain enough presence of mind to be fully aware of how much mental prowess we have lost. Even if you know that you are still a daily inspiration to others, watching our minds and bodies being stripped away by age is overwhelming… especially for those of us with a history of clinical depression. Many times have I longed to make an end of things so I could be free both of the continual decline and of the constant pressure of having the continual responsibility of trying to uplift others in spite of my own great trials. You can tell that Robin still had creative genius even in death. Who would have thought of closing the end of a belt in a door in order to suffocate himself if not a creative genius… or someone who was really into autoerotic asphyxiation. (Robin would have wanted someone to make a comic statement about his death.). Robin often chose roles that encouraged people to challenge the norms of society. He challenged people to be themselves even if… especially if it meant going outside the norms of the expectations of society. In taking his own life, Robin stepped outside the socially acceptable manner of aging gracefully. Some would call it the coward’s way out. Was it cowardice or courage that allowed him to make one final act against the norms of society? You decide.

  3. “When the fearlessness of youth leaves you”… I think that sums up well the aging crisis. Williams had an exuberance bubble and bubbles eventually pop. He was high; so high; nobody could reach him, but it also meant he was taking a solitary flight. We don’t really know the uncharted territories he went into. He covered his fears and doubts with laughter. We are a society that worships youthfulness even while our largest demographic population advances into old age. Did he watch his early films and sigh, realizing he could never go back to those sparkling moments when he was adored as much for the boyish mischief that gleamed from his eyes as for his quick wit? Did he believe death wasn’t an end but simply a means for ending suffering and pain; that his consciousness would continue? Or was he truly weary and wanted complete oblivion?

    We don’t truly know because he was first and foremost an actor. He became the roles he played, convinced us there truly was a world of magic and charm. He died at a time when globally, the belief in magic has been fading. Maybe he saw his Tinkerbell was dying because nobody would fervently cry, “I believe”, and never land ceased to have meaning.

    There will never be another Robin Williams, but there will never be another Richard Pryor either, or a Dean Martin, or a Mae West or a Charlie Chaplain. They were unique personalities, brightening our lives for awhile. We are privileged to have the technology to bring them back into our living rooms again and again while waiting for the next entertainer who will truly touch us and make us forget for awhile our troubles and sorrows. Robin Williams was a gift to us. If in the end, he made us cry, that is our gift to him. Maybe his consciousness still is out there, gratified to know we cared about him as a man and not just as someone who could make us laugh. Maybe that consciousness is waiting for the fervent cry of “I believe” so that as he flies off into the world of magic, he will not be alone.

  4. At times like these invariably I think of Jim Morrison’s words in The Doors lyrics: “When the music’s over, turn out the lights.”
    Robin Williams it seems struggled with these feelings for a while. He always in the past has personal reasons to go forward. But, his family raised, his career respected, it becomes harder to stay. His act was incredibly deliberate. It suggests thoughtfulness toward the final outcome and knowledge of what would get the job done. This is not a cry for help act. It’s something just for Robin.
    And in a world where your demons become something for everyone else to enjoy (the life of a comedian) I can’t do anything but respect his decision. Not that I advocate suicide-I don’t. But choice should always belong to the individual. It was, in his mind time to go. Let’s be thankful he shared so much with us. Let’s also, maybe, stop taking so much from our entertainers and leave them a piece of themselves for themself.

  5. My apologies for the deleted comments. Subversify had a server problem and lost some of the most recent posts. Please repost again or alert the staff for any missing content.



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