I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s been three days now since Robin Williams took his own life, and it’s still virtually all I think about. I’ve never felt this big an impact from a “celebrity” death. Many have deeply saddened me, but I can’t say that any have shocked or grieved me more. I’m going to litter this week’s column with clips or tributes to the late comedian. The first is from Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio, which always closed its shows by asking the guests a standard set of questions. In one of his, Williams mentions that he hopes there is laughter in Heaven. If there is a silver lining to be found in all of this, it’s that Heaven is definitely a funnier place than it was last week even if the Earth is decidedly less so.
Williams was a joy to watch interviewed (though I’m not sure whether hosts were delighted or scared to death at the prospect of his appearance). He couldn’t be contained. He’d be asked a simple question and six impressions and a trip around the entire studio, he’d return to the chair with roughly a 50% chance he’d actually addressed the question that started his orbit of the set. You had absolutely no idea what would come out of his mouth at any given time. He was a free associating whirlwind.
Maybe the reason I can’t comprehend this is the juxtaposition between those joyous explosions that mesmerized me my whole life and the darker corners of his mind that lead him to take his life in such a determinedly, punishing way. It’s nothing new or profound to note that comedians are generally not happy people. Humor is an extremely effective defense mechanism. It makes people like you while typically diverting them from looking too closely at things rather hidden. Williams seemed to skirt that stereotype though by candidly talking about his battles with substance abuse, depression and his darker nature. He was an openly flawed genius, but maybe by controlling the extent to which his darkness was discussed he kept us from seeing how desperately in pain he really was.
I wish I could have helped him somehow. I wish I could have done something to lift his spirits the way he lifted mine countless times. I feel that way and I never met the man. How the people closest to him feel, I can’t even comprehend.
In time, the enormous quantity of laughter he left for us, will outlive the feelings of this week and those to come. His legacy won’t be his end, but the generosity of his spirit and the brilliance of his art. I don’t think there’s anything else to be said about this sad week, so this will be the final retrospective in a series of columns I’ve written about Williams.
The news of Williams’ death reached Conan O’Brien while he was taping his show, and he broke the news to his audience and guests and the stunned way he, Andy Richter and Will Arnett reacted is, I think, exactly how everyone who loved him felt when they heard the news and I’ll end with the graceful way Conan tried to process it.
Good-bye, Robin. Thank you.
*All video clips courtesy of Bravo, NBC, ABC, TBS and EW.