Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says “But Doctor… I am Pagliacci.”
That’s taken from a scene in Watchmen, one of my favorite graphic novels and movies. And after hearing about the unfortunate and sad death (a suicide) of all-time great comedian and actor, Robin Williams, I thought about this “joke.” I think it really says it all doesn’t? The jesters among us always seem the most troubled, as if they’ve given everyone else all their happiness and none was leftover for themselves.
Robin had a long and storied battle with alcoholism, drug addiction and severe depression. Before I discuss his career and what I remember fondly about it, there’s just an itch of a pet peeve I have to address:
There will be those that say, “Why does some celebrity get all this attention? How many soldiers kill themselves and nobody cares?” Or something like that. Undoubtedly, every soldier or anyone that kills themselves after battling a mental illness, feeling as if they had nowhere to turn, is tragic.But the key point here is that much like his life and career, Robin Williams’ death, as tragic as it is, can be one more last helpful thing Williams can give to the world. By showing people that depression ain’t nothing to fuck around with. That it’s legit. That it doesn’t lessen because you have millions of dollars or fans. It doesn’t cower at the sight of an Oscar trophy.
People are too cynical about celebrity status, but I digress.
Anyhow, there is such a stigma around depression. Shepard Smith on Fox News, for instance, was scorned and rightfully so for calling Robin a “coward.” The typical stigma associated with those who commit suicide: That they are cowards and selfish; how could they leave behind their family like that? Because they had crippling fucking depression. That’s why.
It’s such a misunderstood and much maligned disease that impacts a great many people and unfortunately, ends a great many people’s lives. As Molly Pohlig put in a Slate article in response to people saying, “Well doesn’t Robin know how much people loved him?”:
But there comes a point where love does not matter. When things are bad, I don’t care that people love me. All I can see is that I’m a burden, that everything I have ever done is wrong, and that these good people who love me are wrong as well. At my lowest, love cannot save me. Hope, prayers, daily affirmations—none of these can save me. Therapy and medicine are what matter, and those don’t always work either.
There’s nothing selfish in that.
She continues about how depression, as a disease, is not marketable:
Mental illness isn’t a marketable disease. I’m sure there are many celebrities who suffer from it, but we don’t have a celebrity spokesperson. There are no ice bucket challenges for depression. Cancer survivors can proudly show off their scars, but no one wants to see ours. We don’t have a ribbon or color. Anyone want to buy a gray KitchenAid mixer for mental health research? And depression is one of the more acceptable mental illnesses to have. Imagine a 5k run for bipolar and borderline personality disorders.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If I can entertain the notion, I’d like to list my favorite Robin Williams roles and they are numerous. I forgot just how instrumental he was in my favorite films growing up and of all-time. No particular order really aside from #1, as it’s my all-time favorite film.
1. Good Will Hunting
3. Mrs. Doubtfire
5. One Hour Photo
6. Dead Poet’s Society
What a helluva talent and a sad, sad loss for the world.
Thaddeus Russell said on Facebook, “No philosopher, no historian, no “public intellectual” tells us more about ourselves and the world we live in than a great comedian.” Ain’t that the fucking truth.