EDITORIALS

Robin Williams, depression and truth in comedy

Posted Aug. 11, 2014, at 10:07 p.m.
Actor and comedian Robin Williams died Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. He was 63.
Ken Hively | MCT
Actor and comedian Robin Williams died Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. He was 63.

The shock was palpable as the news spread late Monday: Comedic genius Robin Williams was dead. At the age of 63. Of an apparent suicide.

Across cyberspace, fans expressed their adoration for the television and movie actor. But mostly they were sad and shocked.

How could someone so funny have been so depressed?

The connection between comedy and depression has long been known. As BDN blogger and addictions counselor Jim LaPierre put it, “Those of us who understand addiction, and/or paid close attention to his stand up are not shocked that this happened. Comedy always contains a certain amount of truth. Examine that truth closely and you will find a certain amount of pain.

“Perhaps Williams had more than most. Perhaps his Bipolar Disorder was unmedicated or the depression it bestowed was too great,” he added.

Williams had been open about his struggles, including alcohol and cocaine abuse. He said he quit after his friend John Belushi died of an overdose in 1982. He remained sober for more than 20 years but entered rehab in 2006 for alcohol addiction after a relapse, Buzzfeed reported.

“It’s [addiction] — not caused by anything, it’s just there,” Williams told ABC in a 2006 interview. “It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK. Then you realize, ‘Where am I? I didn’t realize I was in Cleveland.’”

According to the Huffington Post, he checked into rehab last month for “continued sobriety.”

“He has been battling severe depression of late,” his media representative Mara Buxbaum told CNN on Monday. “This is a tragic and sudden loss.”

His apparent suicide shows us that anyone can be touched by depression. It doesn’t matter what people do for a living or how well-loved they are; depression can tear down everyone equally. Many find the help that makes them feel more whole. Many do not. As the world mourns Williams’ death, much attention will be drawn to depression and addiction.

May that renewed attention have an impact greater and more long-lasting than his Hollywood legacy.

“Our job is improving the quality of life, not just delaying death.” — Robin Williams as Patch Adams, a doctor who used humor to help heal his patients.

If you are concerned about yourself or about somebody else, call the suicide crisis hotline at 1-888-568-1112. If you are not in Maine, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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