Robin Williams would have been a star selling ice cream in rural Idaho. You would have purchased your snow cone, laughed until your stomach hurt, and driven away saying, “That guy is special.” Luckily for us he didn’t sell ice cream, but instead involved himself in a career that enhanced the lives of everyone across the world. We were able to witness his brilliance many times over. He wasn’t only a great actor; he was a great human being. Mr. Williams had soul, man.
I worked with Robin three times in Northern California. He would pop into comedy clubs and theaters to do sets. Each time he would wait his turn to perform, always a class act, delighting the comics in the green room with his stories and laid back demeanor. He was larger-than-life but he never made you feel like he wasn't bigger than you. He loved to listen and he would complement people so easily. It was almost as though he had issues with his own self-importance. It was amazing.
He called me "Georgia Boy" because he remembered how I talked about being from rural north Georgia in my set (where they filmed Deliverance). He's met a million people, but he remembered me. Wow. What an amazing man. He not only treated me that way, he treated everyone that way. If the earth is a stage, Robin Williams was the headliner.
Society seems confused as to why many comedians, actors, and musicians have trouble with addiction and depression. What do you think brings us to the stage to begin with? It is a desire to be loved, and a need for acceptance. The humor is often a mask that keeps people away. You really don't want them away, but you also don't know how to bring them in. The jokes keep the walls up, like an emotional fortress, and many times we will defend this fortress to our death…in Robin’s case, literally.
For years I made my living as a comedian, but through recovery, therapy, meditation, volunteering, mentoring, etc., I realized something: I didn't love standup comedy as much as I loved that the crowd loved me. You go on stage and the audience adores you. Maybe a woman loves you for the evening. Whiskey and drugs love you. But you do the same thing over and over until it gets old and tired…and you get miserable and lonely. Robin would go on stage to entertain a crowd, but leave to fight the inner demons alone.
Think of being in pain, depressed, anxious, or lonely. Now think of something that seemingly cures that instantly: drugs, pills, and alcohol. Substances go into the blood stream immediately, thus providing an instant release from the struggle. A sigh of relief and one feels better. Mix this panacea with psychological reasons to drink/drug, and you've got major problems. A relapse is a valid option when we haven't dealt with the reasons WHY we are depressed, suicidal, etc. If we don't create our sobriety to be bigger than our addiction/depression, then we can easily go back to the previous behavior. It seems Robin sadly lost this struggle.
Some people say suicide is the coward’s way out. I say shame on those who say that. People who suffer from depression or addiction are sick. They aren't bad people — they simply need help; possibly your help. Suicide is a release from pain. Nobody ties a noose wondering if they are a coward. We call them that because we are selfish.
A lady told me recently, "You have very pretty eyes, but I see much sadness in them." All I could do was walk away, because she was right. She saw directly into me. I took a long walk that night and thought about what she said. Immediately I was overcome with joy, because the sadness of my life, the pain and addiction, are currently in the past, and if I keep living a fulfilled life (of giving back) then I can ward off depression and addiction one day at a time.
It used to be little Justin and big Alcoholism/Depression, but now it is big Justin and little Alcohol/Depression. My life has gotten bigger because I got bigger. Unfortunately it seems Robin lost this battle, and that is as much our loss as it is his. All the money in the world can't fix the work we have to do to ourselves.
When I met Robin I saw sadness in his eyes too. I wish now that I would have told him of the pain I saw, because maybe we would have connected and he wouldn't have felt so alone, so depressed. It doesn't take fifty people to make a difference; one will do with the right attitude. The people you see, they are your cause. They are your audience. If we are able to show light where others see darkness, at some point they will see differently.
Depression and Addiction don't end because you stopped reading about it on a billboard. People quietly walk around with pain and with loss and we have no idea what they are thinking. Stop trying to figure out what they are thinking and just be kind. That's it. It starts there.
Robin, you gave us all something amazing and sadly you couldn’t give yourself what you gave us: joy. I hope the real lesson we learn from your death is that the rich and famous suffer as well. We all have the potential to suffer. Ultimately life is our journey and our path, but the battle is a little easier to fight when we all see the best in each other, because then we see the best in ourselves.
We will miss you, Robin. I wish you knew how much we relate to who you really were, and truly identify with your pain. Life can be tough. I am Robin Williams, and maybe some of you are as well, but tomorrow is a new day…and tomorrow is a new you. Live your life for you and get big because you can. You have the power to make this happen. Be the person you admire, and thank Robin along the way.
More on how to deal with depression on YourTango:
- 5 Ways You Can Help Yourself Deal With Depression
- How To Deal With Depression: 4 Simple Solutions
- How To Be Happy: It's A Process