Following the sudden death of Robin Williams, I, among many, find myself revisiting the moments of his life that were so endearing. From inspiring, award-winning movies like Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting to USO appearances and support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Williams was a global force for so much good. Yet, in the midst of his comedic presence and abundant energy, Williams found moments in which to be open and truthful about his struggle with addiction and depression. His candor about something so personal and so challenging is profoundly remarkable, especially in the context of Hollywood and fame.
Famous people live their life on a stage – usually by choice – and under the microscope of public scrutiny. The pressure for the appearance of perfection is intense. Despite this, it often seems that what we, as the “fans,” value most is honesty. Think of the interviews you’ve seen where the star is just so polished they seem insincere. Not the case with Williams who was most relatable when he would talk about his less-than-perfect life:
“For me it was basically a great way of escaping. It was a great way to cut off from people because it was the only time I could escape.” (Williams, on addiction, during an interview with Barbara Walters.)
“It’s not caused by anything. It’s just there. It’s latent. It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think ‘it’s fine now, I’m ok’…And then the next thing you know, it’s not ok.” (Williams, on relapsing and rehab, during an interview with Diane Sawyer.)
Addiction and depression are uncomfortable to talk about and to hear about, and yet he said it anyway. And, as was often the case with Williams, he had an uncanny gift in bringing humor to his dialogue, which makes others more comfortable talking about it. His comic chaos made hard subjects not so taboo.
“If they made a drug that allowed you to drink and not get drunk, an alcoholic would go, ‘What happens if you take two?’ ” (Williams, during his comedy tour “Weapons of Self Destruction.”)
The death of Williams is a great loss for our humanity, not just for his creative genius and generous heart, but also for his role in bringing light – openness, honesty and clarity – to the darkness of addiction, anxiety and depression. Steve Martin said it best when he described Williams as a “genuine soul.”