“His friends are more than fond of Robin.
He doesn’t need to complement them.
And always when he leaves he leaves them
Feeling proud just to know him.”
Maybe Carly Simon didn’t write this about Robin Williams. But she could have.
“You ain’t never had a friend like me!”
Robin Williams in Aladdin
Today I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Last night I was writing a video for you and one of the main points I wanted to make was that ultimately it’s better for your business for you to be almost-famous than to be uber-famous.
But because that’s a heavy concept to get across on video I was on the verge of cutting it out. Then the news came that Robin Williams had died, evidently by his own hand.
Many of us knew him as this zany, manic, genius-level comic not seen in the world since the great Jonathan Winters. But who was he really? Because he was always “on”, even friends who knew him for 35 years say they didn’t truly know the man.
Here’s what we did know about Robin Williams. He had an uncanny ability to mine comedy gold from any factoid in sight.
But he wasn’t just flash. He had an intelligence and empathy that allowed him to slide effortlessly from comedy to tragedy. He could flit from theatre to film to the concert stage and back again without breaking a sweat.
He set the bar for everyone else. And no one has raised it yet.
He was in my favorite film, The Fisher King. It was the celluloid equivalent of Williams himself: startlingly original, full of roller-coaster emotion, reveling in its own manic energy, wildly creative, psychologically messy and most important, (at least to me) a shockingly good message of redemption. It demonstrated finding joy in the worst possible circumstances, even if your only choice was to retreat into a world of your own making.
That was the world Robin Williams shared with us.
But there was one thing he never riffed on.
Uber-fame brings complications that most of us can’t begin to imagine. I’m sure you’ve even seen how occasionally once-normal human beings turn into monsters. The weird lives of figures like Joan Crawford, Michael Jackson or Brittany Spears are awful enough case studies.
I don’t know. Maybe fame just amplifies your essential personality. It certainly removes the social filter.
But Robin Williams was no monster. By all accounts he was a generous soul. His collaborators loved him. His many acts of charity went unreported…by request. That just is not the case with your run-of-the-mill Hollywood sociopath.
But…we know now that he was suffering from depression; something he rarely talked about. In 2010 he told the Guardian that he had anxiety and fear about everything. (Maybe he was on medications which made it much worse.)
He once told 60 Minutes that for him comedy was therapy. That makes me wonder. Did he riff on his addictions so he could then go away and deal with them in peace? Fame would always put his private problems on public display.
If so, what made him conclude that even after 30 years of jokes about cocaine and sex he couldn’t possibly riff on depression?
The irony is that if he had shared it, it might have led to relief not only for himself, but for millions of others who suffer from depression.
Sometimes evil wins and sometimes the good die young. We can’t change that. But I guess we can remind ourselves that if we don’t share the things that burden us, it may do us more harm than if we suffer alone. In fact, if you know someone who suffers from depression, let them know they aren’t alone. Maybe it’ll help.
So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I have to tell you I don’t feel like suffering alone right now. If you were a fan do you have a favorite memory of Robin Williams? Something that made you laugh out loud maybe? If so, please share it below.
I’ll start. If you never saw him explain the game of golf as a drunk Scottish guy, put down your vanilla chai, because it’ll be coming out your nose in a minute: (warning: rough language)
Hey, listen. I know this isn’t quite what you signed up for, and I promise not to make many side trips along the way to helping you become a video marketing ninja. But just for today, just for a moment, I’d like to pause and publicly pay my respects to a man who in many ways gave me the courage to start the work I was meant to do.