The Corner

On Robin Williams, and on Depression

Robin Williams had his faults — and as a youngster who loved comedy, I grew up hearing about them. (He stole jokes; he was a showboat; in later years, he did some awful movies; etc., etc.) He was nonetheless an amazing talent and he did some great work, not just in comedy (Mork and Mindy; standup; great impressions, including of our own WFB), but in some powerful dramatic roles such as One Hour Photo (2002), Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day (1986), and Insomnia (2002).

One of the things I have heard in the wake of his death, apparently by suicide owing to depression, is, How could he have despaired to the point of killing himself, when he was so wealthy, successful, and beloved? And it made me reflect on what depression is, and the damage it can do. The analogy I have found in my own experience — in reading our own blog here, and others — is negative comboxers. I no longer regularly read the comboxes, especially on my own posts, but when I used to, the impression I got was of a hateful anonymous force that seeks to make the writer despair. But the difference between a hateful comboxer and depression is that the hateful comboxer — an anonymous nobody, after all — doesn’t really know what he’s doing. (Many a time, when I would read anonymous combox abuse, I would think, Golly, I suppose this chap is trying to hurt my feelings, but the fellow doesn’t know quite how, the poor dear.) Now picture an equally malevolent, anonymous force, trying to break someone’s spirit — only he actually lives inside that person, has the person’s own intelligence, and therefore knows that person’s faults with infinite specificity and can use them to destroy him. That is depression, an inner hateful comboxer — and that is what lived inside Robin Williams and destroyed him. What’s remarkable is that not that he eventually collapsed, but that he managed to live to the age of 63.

This is a pathology that especially inheres in people who love comedy. The quest for laughter — one’s own, and others’ – is a treatment for the heartbreak at the center of life. The quest of Robin Williams was at heart, therefore, a religious one. (We have all heard his top ten reasons for being Episcopalian; I just this evening learned that other Episcopalians have added ten others. Thanks, Rev. Rebecca Barnes, for letting me know!)

May the merciful God take into his heart this man who did so much to lift the spirits of others, so that he may join great, heartbroken folks like Bill Hicks and Richard Jeni at the true source and fountain of all joy: the God who is greater than our faults and sins (I John 3:20).

Robin Williams, and all others who are equally broken-hearted and have gone before us, R.I.P.

Most Popular

Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More
World

Australia’s Voters Reject Leftist Ideas

Hell hath no fury greater than left-wingers who lose an election in a surprise upset. Think Brexit in 2016. Think Trump’s victory the same year. Now add Australia. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison shocked pollsters and pundits alike with his victory on Saturday, and the reaction has been brutal ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More