Robin Williams’ death is one that hits so many of us so close to home, because he was in our homes as we grew up. He imprinted on us. We could feel his kindness, his gentleness, his sensitivity, and his wicked, whimsically brilliant sense of humor all at once. He had a way of captivating and enveloping audiences from all age groups, and was able to produce the kind of laughter on a regular basis, that we don’t get to experience often enough. As a performer, he managed to be awe-inspiring, and yet kind and full of love for his audience. His ability to speak with ironic, brilliant dismay about the triumphs, tragedies, and absurdities of the human condition, from Marin County all the way to Ork is what made him relatable, reachable, a brilliant teacher and entertainer. It’s why we adored him, even when some of his work wasn’t so critically acclaimed, even when he didn’t know we loved him, we diligently watched him, and loved him anyway. It’s why we ache deeply for him. His talent is breathtaking, so scathingly brilliant, that is was not of this world, yet he wore his humanness on his sleeve for all of us to see. His vulnerabilities were our vulnerabilities. It’s because he belonged to us that we feel less angry toward him for abandoning ship, and more compassionate toward him for not being able to keep the boat afloat. It’s our collective love for him that is expanding our awareness of just how insidious a disease depression can be, when it succeeds in convincing you that you can’t be here anymore.
As outsiders, we have little information to go on in trying to understand just how bad it had to be, for our beloved Robin Williams to succumb this way to his despair. We will not be able to make sense of what was going through his mind leading up to his death, no matter how much we speculate. It had to be so dark and dank in his head that he no longer understood that he mattered. I didn't know him personally, but, as many of us did, I grew up watching him and was utterly riveted by his brilliance, following his career with a diehard loyalty, reserved exclusively for him.
What we do know, is that he battled depression, which, when it pervades your life as it did his, means a feeling of profound, aching, monochromatic isolation no matter how beloved and elevated you are. You do not feel deserving of your gifts, or you desperately want to escape out from under them. Because of Robin Williams’ notorious kindness, and generosity of spirit, he must also have been haunted until his dying day by survivor guilt from John Belushi's death.
Our beloved Robin Williams also battled addiction, prolifically, but then had been able — for years — to keep his addictions at bay. For whatever reason, after reclaiming sobriety again after relapse in 2006, very recently, he fell back into old patterns, then returned yet again to rehab. But when the pain is that deep, the self-loathing that embedded, the ability to hide your despair about what it actually takes to re-enter rehab, and face yet again, that which you still have not tamed, can evoke crippling shame. To face the shame-ridden, torturous road to recovery yet again, and to hate yourself so much, that you already know you have failed before you even try, had to be part of the hell he suffered.
For it to have come to this, Robin Williams had fallen into a deep, dark hole of despair so excruciating, so isolating, that the only voice he could hear, above all of those that love him, was his own, telling him louder and stronger than anyone else’s, that he is worthless, he doesn’t deserve, that he can't be here anymore. To be as kind, gentle, gifted and generous a man as he, he had successfully convinced himself that his family, friends, and fans were better off without him. He lost the ability to understand that the people that love him would be ravaged without him. He was viewing the world through a distorted lens of relentless depression and addiction. The depth of the pain, of trauma, of loss, of shame, of self-loathing at this stage in his life knew no bounds.
What keeps running through my mind is that powerful scene in Good Will Hunting in which Robin Williams grabs Matt Damon by the shoulders and repeats, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault," until Matt Damon begins to weep at the relief of being understood in his trauma.
It's not your fault, Robin Williams. It's not your fault.