From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
If the only comic bit Robin Williams had ever done was Elmer Fudd singing The Pointer Sisters’ “Fire,” I’d have still been a lifelong fan.
If you’ve never heard it, please try to imagine:
"When we kiiiiiiss….Fiiii-wuh…” Genius.
Did it make you sadder than you expected to hear Monday that he’d died? It did me, and I wondered why, and all I could come up with was that he entertained me in different ways through a lot of years, and he did the same for my son, and that I’d consciously decided, at some point along the way, that this was how things would end for Robin Williams.
“Good Will Hunting” was one of the first movies my son “got.” But years before, when he was 3, we’d seen “Aladdin” three times at “the big show” – including once on a Christmas Day, the same day Santa had brought him a genie bottle – then countless times in the living room. I didn’t always understand his comedic riffs, but I always enjoyed him in movies -- “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Dead Poets Society” and especially the genie singing “You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me.”
But over time, either because of my circumstances or because of comparisons you make with people or conclusions you draw from all that, or because of my own insecurities, I decided that I would not be shocked if one day Robin Williams killed himself. But it’s probably not too smart to write in the newspaper, “I think that one day So-And-So will kill themselves.” Who wants to think that? It’s just that his highs seemed so high, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and so maybe I tried imagining how low his lows would be.
But I don’t know Robin Williams and I don’t do well when hearing people moralize about suicide. I do know that a tweet from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, while I’m sure well-intended, was not the message we want to get across. In the picture, Aladdin hugs the genie, and the caption reads “Genie, you’re free.”
Professionals tell us there are lots of reasons suicides happen, so I can’t begin to explain, but I do have experience: I have had in-laws die from suicide; people in my immediate family have held guns in their hands and stood on bridges while contemplating this very thing; I have been to three post-suicide funerals.
I was asked by one of my relatives to read “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness.” In it, Pulitzer winner William Styron describes his battle with suicidal depression. I read it, and while the joke would be that it made me want to kill myself, the reality is that it made me understand better why some people consider it. But again, professionals reason that suicide does not set the genie free. Tragedy all around.
Surely our similar experiences by now have helped us understand that every one of us needs encouragement, that we never really know what someone else carries into each new day, and that because of it, all of us could stand to err on the side of compassion and understanding.
Toward the end of “The Fisher King,” the female character, Lydia, tells the Robin Williams character how flawed she is, and how she’s certain he won’t like her, and how she’s clumsy and forgetful and…And then Williams’ character tells her that no, he already knows all that – and he loves her anyway. With all her faults.
That’s the kind of love we all want and the kind of indestructible, heavy duty love that’s available to each of us, the kind of love that can see you through the dark spots, and the only thing that any of us can depend on 100 percent to totally counter all our human insecurities. But maybe not everyone can feel that, or maybe sometimes, for a tragic moment, they lose it.
The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).