Know that you are loved, Robin Williams

Late last year Robin Williams spent a few hours answering questions from fans on Reddit. Among other things, he offered the following piece of advice on navigating hard times. And, given the fact that he apparently took his own life this morning, after having suffered through a sustained bout of depression, I thought that it was worth repeating.


Having suffered through my share of depressive episodes, I know it’s easier said than done, but, if you ever find yourself in a position where you think that things are truly hopeless, know that there really are people out there who would love to have an opportunity to try to help you.

As for Williams, while his professional work never really resonated with me, I can appreciate the fact that others found something valuable in it, and my heart goes out to them today, as well his friends and family. To quote John L. Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh.”

One last thing. If you have the time, and want to get a sense of what Williams was dealing with, I’d suggest listening to the 2010 interview he did with Marc Maron. (Williams talks of suicide at the 55 minute mark, saying that he “doesn’t have the balls to do it.”)

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  1. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    While I wasn’t really a fan of William’s work, I appreciated the fact that he was out there, fearlessly doing his thing. And I got the sense that, beneath it all, he was a decent guy. I liked, for instance, the fact that he’d always say nice things about Jonathan Winters. That seemed sweet to me… Anyway, sorry this wasn’t more of a post. I wasn’t going to say anything at all about his passing, as I thought that I didn’t have anything much to add. Then it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to remind people, like Williams had not too long ago, that they’re loved. I think that’s a nice way to remember the man.

  2. Elviscostello
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    As one who has been touched by suicide, my dad in 1996, I’d like to say that after grief and survivor groups, what folks don’t understand is that the person whio commits the act could do no different. They get to a point, beyond help, where the well is so deep, they don’t see light, and suicide is the best option. My father wrote that we would be better off without him. How wrong he was, and how deluded his thought process. I saw a couple of comments that said that Williams was selfish. So far from true. Selfish has nothing to do with it. Prior to his suicide, he had two friends that had wives who had committed suicide, and he was incredulous that they could hurt their family so…

  3. Posted August 11, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    When you’re in the midsts of it, there’s no amount of logic that can snap you out of it. In retrospect, once the dark cloud has passed, it seems so obvious, but, when you’re living it, you can’t accept that fact, even if you’ve lived through the same thing before. And that’s what struck me about Williams’ note. He’d clearly made it though before, and he knew the truth. He knew that he was loved, and that people were there to help him. Yet, when the depression came back, he couldn’t act on his own advice. Or so it would seem. It speaks, I think, to the insidious nature of the disease.

    Thank you for sharing your story, EC. I’ve lost three members of my family to suicide, and I can certainly appreciate your point of view. With that said, though, we can’t just throw up our hands and accept it. We need to fight back against it. We need to fund depression research, and we need to keep reminding those people who we care about that we’re there for them. It may not always make a difference, but sometimes it might.

  4. Bob
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Making it clear you had nothing good to say about his entire body of work. Sort of a weird tribute.

  5. Elviscostello
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Mark, I’m sorry if I was “hopeless” about suicide. I agree that we need to put much more into mental health and prevention. There is a difference between those who are “spur of the moment” suicides and those who take the time to plan their death, though. My father had been planning for at least two weeks that we know of. When I was a Firefighter, I went on suicides that were, from all evidence, an act of impluse to strike out at someone else and “make them pay” for what they did to the victim.
    David Sedaris just did an excellent piece in the New Yorker, not long ago, about his Sister’s suicide.

  6. anonymous
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I didn’t like the coked-out, manic schtick of his youth. Nor did I care for his sickly sweet, tearfully sentimental material. His darker stuff, however, seemed to work. It seemed more in line with who he was. There was always a kind of darkness about him.

  7. Meta
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Cracked has a good piece today on the intersection of depression and comedy, and why it is that comics often take their lives.

    Here’s how it works for most of us, as far as I can tell. I’ll even put it in list form because who gives a fuck at this point:

    1. At an early age, you start hating yourself. Often it’s because you were abused, or just grew up in a broken home, or were rejected socially, or maybe you were just weird or fat or … whatever. You’re not like the other kids, the other kids don’t seem to like you, and you can usually detect that by age 5 or so.

    2. At some point, usually at a very young age, you did something that got a laugh from the room. You made a joke or fell down or farted, and you realized for the first time that you could get a positive reaction that way. Not genuine love or affection, mind you, just a reaction — one that is a step up from hatred and a thousand steps up from invisibility. One you could control.

    3. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you — a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.

    4. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.

    You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That’s not the real you. So you’re protected.

    But the side effect is that if people love the clown … well, you know the truth. You know how different it’d be if they met the real you.

    Read more:

  8. Eel
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    ABC being respectful of his family.

  9. Elviscostello
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Shep Smith of Fox News called Williams a coward last night. Fine language from a closeted (allegedly) homosexual.

  10. a different anonymous
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I always thought there was a generosity to his style of humor – that by being willing to be the clown, you’re putting aside your own ego to make people laugh, and essentially putting others first in a way that most of us are too self-conscious to ever do. (I can’t even clown around to make babies smile. What if they don’t think I’m funny? What if their parents think I look dumb?) For me it was driven home in the 1998 Golden Globes, when Christine Lahti was in the bathroom during her award, and he bounced up onto the stage and goofed off until she got back. My impression was that this was an act of kindness rather than self-promotion, he was just pained by everyone’s discomfort and embarrassment and wanted to relieve the awkwardness. (Contrast this to Jack Nicholson, who minutes later led off his acceptance speech with the cheapest possible shot at Ms. Lahti’s predicament…)

    There’s also probably something to the Cracked piece mentioned above, it makes sense. (He apparently began life as a chubby kid growing up in Bloomfield Hills with no friends.) But either way, he was a class act.

  11. S.
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    More than 270,000 people have shared a tweet showing the genie in Aladin being set free, along with the words ‘Genie, you’re free’, and mental health workers aren’t happy about it.

    From the Washington Post:

    On Monday night, as fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’s death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — best known, in many circles, as the people behind the Oscars — sent out what may be the iconic social media image of Williams’s death.

    The problem? It violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide.

    “If it doesn’t cross the line, it comes very, very close to it,” said Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Suicide should never be presented as an option. That’s a formula for potential contagion.”

    Moutier is referring to a well-documented phenomenon, better-known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Adolescents are most at risk of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like AFSP have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.

  12. another point of view
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

    -David Foster Wallace

  13. Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Bob, like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan. I appreciated his fearlessness, but his schtick made me nervous, as do many things in life. As a human being, though, he seemed like a pretty decent guy, and that alone, at least for me, is reason enough to mourn his loss. Over the past 24 hours, I’ve read dozens of accounts of average people who, for some reason or another, happened to cross paths with him, and the stories are uniformly beautiful. And I don’t have to have enjoyed Mork and Mindy and Mrs. Doubtfire to acknowledge that. By all accounts, he gave freely of his time, and truly cared about people, and that’s good enough for me.

  14. Elayne Boosler
    Posted August 13, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Robin Williams and I lived together in LA in ’77-78. As Dr. Who says, “I’ll be a story in your head, but that’s okay, because we’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”. What I want to say is this: From all the pm’s on here for years, I know how many of my Peeps are truly suffering. Financially, health-wise, career-wise, work-wise, keeping head above water-wise, soul and heart-wise, and I just want to say; though fb and twitter and the media make it seem like everyone’s life is better, richer, happier, and more successful than yours, it simply isn’t true. Life is hard, and it’s hard for everyone. I have watched my Peeps here struggle, and yet valiantly show up day after day, with humor and spirit and strength and hope, to try again. You are my heroes, you are the warriors, you are the successes. Everyone suffers, you are not alone, and you can and will win, but you have to stay in the game.

  15. Bob
    Posted August 13, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I’m a little surprised you wouldn’t appreciate his work in Bobcat Goldthwait’s really underrated films. Williams pretty much helped get all of them made, I think. Even his first one, Shakes The Clown, only got funded because of Robin’s involvement. Garp, Moscow, Death To Smoochy, especially Altman’s Popeye. A lot of weird, good stuff.

  16. Posted August 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Why did you delete the Lauren Bacall post.

  17. Posted August 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Yeah. Last night I posted something about Lauren Becall’s death, and I ended up taking it down this morning. It’s not because I changed my mind about her, or that I’ve found out that she’s still alive. It’s just that the whole post was kind of built around a recent quote of hers which I was told that she didn’t really say. As the quote appeared in her obit in The Guardian, I accepted it as fact. But a friend wrote to me this morning with a link to an article in 2009 stating that it was a hoax. As I couldn’t tell what the truth was, I took the post down. So, no, she’s not still alive. She really did die. I just couldn’t prove the veracity of the quote. Thanks for asking, Pete. It’s good to know that you’re reading my site in Africa.

  18. Posted August 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    As for you, Bob, I’m not sure what to say. I liked Shakes the Clown, and I appreciate that Williams helped make it happen, but I didn’t care much for the part that he played in the film. As for the other stuff by Goldthwait, I haven’t seen a lot of it. I started watching World’s Greatest Dad and ended up turning it off. I don’t know if it was the subject matter, or the acting, but it wasn’t working for me. As for the other films you mention, I know I’ve seen some of them, but I don’t really remember any details. Sorry.

  19. BrianB
    Posted August 13, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    One thing I’ve learned from the online obituary boom this week is that if you struggle with some form of mental illness, remember that you are not alone, everyone is mentally ill.

  20. BrianB
    Posted August 13, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    The other thing I learned is that if you get killed by a famous nascar driver running over you, your online obituaries will say that you deserved to die for getting out of your car. Basically, if a famous person kills themself, it’s a tragedy but if a famous person kills someone else, then they should’ve gotten the fuck out of that celebrety’s way.

  21. Mr. X
    Posted August 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    There’s more to the story. According to his wife, his sobriety was intact when he took his life, and he likely did it because he was recently diagnosed with Parkinsons.

  22. KKT
    Posted September 2, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Can you imagine if he’d done it like this, in LA?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] the immediately aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, there was a great deal of talk in the press about suicide, depression, and the fact that the two, […]

  2. […] the immediate aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, there was a great deal of talk in the press about suicide, depression, and the fact that the two, […]

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