As news broke that Robin Williams, an Academy Award winning actor and one of the funniest men in our midst, had apparently taken his own lifeyou could almost feel the disbelief move across the country and the world. For those who had enjoyed his movies and television shows for decades, but had not followed his personal life closely, the news was unimaginable. And for those who have never suffered from addiction or depression, the reality of what he did is almost impossible to understand. Many are wondering, how could someone so successful, so funny, so talented, and so seemingly well-loved want to die?

Unless you live with the demons of addiction, it is hard to wrap your brain around what he might have been going through. Robin was known to have had a drug problem decades ago, with a relapse in 2006 for which he underwent treatment. Just last month he went back into rehab, though his rep said it was only to maintain his health. Drugs are often a way for people to ease their inner turmoil. Yet when they manage to stop using or drinking, that pain can run deeper than ever. Some may not have the skills to cope with it, and consequently may be left with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, futility, and despair. Often addiction and depression go hand in hand. To add to the high stakes, when people do succeed in being drug free for months building into years, any sort of relapse can feel like they have caused irreparable damage from which it is hard to return. There can come a time when hope runs out and the idea of ending it all seems like the only relief from their personal suffering.

It was Robin’s torment that fueled not only his intense drive to perform, but also which probably led him to his addiction. Despite many years of sobriety, his recent return to rehab suggests that his intense emptiness finally caught up to him again. He worked so hard to stay ahead of that speeding and out of control bus, but finally lost his battle. He was a fountain of energy, always giving to everyone he touched, yet it appears he was finally tapped out of gas for himself. 

We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine. It is a way to higher ground, a way to lighten the sadness we all live through. Some of our best comedians have been able to take their personal struggles and turn it into humor. Sadly, Robin follows in the footsteps of other beloved performers who fell prey to the anguish and annihilation of addiction including Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Lenny Bruce, and Chris Farley.

As Robin’s death sinks in and we begin to mourn him, the overwhelming feelings are of loss and sadness. Hopefully, though, we will eventually remember him mostly for his amazing roles, from Mork to Mrs. Doubtfire, which brought us so much laughter and happiness that we can hold on to. Robin’s true talent and genius was that for so long he was able to transform his pain into the gift of laughter which he shared with us all, and for which we will remain forever grateful.

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