I have been effected by celebrity deaths before: John Ritter, Carol O’Connor, and more recently Glee’s Cory Monteith. Each held a special place in my heart, and I grieved them for different reasons.
However, the death of Robin Williams flooded me with a unique and quite unexpected type of grief.
I was closing up my store that night when I first heard the news. It flickered across my twitter feed like a stoic ticker tape, and I had to do a double take to make sure that I had read it right. After all, it had been a long eight hours and I was drained. Then came the texts and posts from friends, all touting the same somber mantra.
I thought about him the rest of my night and into the next day.
And I’m still thinking of him today.
Robin Williams did more than define a generation, he was much more than the comedic face of some of the most beloved characters in cinematic history.
Robin Williams was like a constant current of happiness and familiarity that coursed through the veins of countless families year after year.
My first memory of his work was watching Mork and Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite on those rare nights when my mom would get to come home early from work. We would sit and watch the comedic genius unfold as we shared ice cream, even though it was late and I had already brushed my teeth. My eyelids would grow heavy as I tried to keep up with Robin’s bouncing energetic character as he flitted across the small screen. Even at that age I knew just how special he was. I still giggle every time I say or hear, “Nanoo Nanoo”. It’s a small memory, but it has remained with me for so long that it has just become a part of me.
Mork is a part of me just as much as Genie. I’m a part of a Disney generation fueled by singing lions, library owning beasts, and wish granting genies. Aladdin was, and is, a personal favorite. As I sang, and acted my way along with the VHS there was Robin once again…my constant companion unknowingly helping me through the trials and tribulations of childhood. His zany antics, and impersonations did more than just send me into peals of laughter…they helped me to realize that being quirky was a-okay. My uniqueness was nothing to keep bottled inside my “itty bitty living space”. I should parade it out, show it off, and be proud.
Of course with Mork and Genie came the enormous faux bosoms of Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire. While my parents divorced when I was too young to remember, Robin was there for several of my friends as they held on through the roller coaster ride of their lives drastically changing. For me? Mrs. Doubtfire will always be the jumping point for my love of cinema makeup and impersonations. I’ll still occasionally blurt out, “Layla, get back in your cell! Don’t make me get the hose!”
He comforted us with Mrs. Doubtfire, kept us on our toes with Jumangi, taught us to delight in life’s simple wonders in Jack, and took us back to Neverland with a “Bangarang!” in Hook. Through every tiptoe of my life, when I’ve needed a pick me up and a laugh, when I’ve needed to wonder in amazement at one person’s extraordinary abilities, Robin was there and as I grew I tuned in to Good Will Hunting, The Birdcage, and of course Dead Poets Society…
“be extraordinary, boys.”
In my recent years I have turned more to his standup when I need a laugh. I would listen to his special from Broadway while driving to and from college. Just last night I laughed until I cried at his “Weapons of Self Destruction” special it’s 90 minutes of genius … My genie-loving-younger self would be appalled at the material but my current self finds it fucking genius.
Again, even postmortem, Robin is there.
He is there for us all.
But we have to be there for each other.
The way Robin Williams died is no secret. It’s been the talk of the morning radio shows almost as much, if not more, as his life and career itself. What I find most appalling is the discussion of whether or not depression is a true illness, or if Robin was simply a coward.
Let’s get one thing straight:
Depression is just as much an illness as diabetes or cancer, and just as crippling.
I find it quite sad that in this day and age some of us are still trying to understand that the mind can be just as sick as a lung or a kidney. Yes, our mind emits emotion, it shapes our personality, it seems as if the mind is a creative artistic canvas. But the mind is also quite mechanical and scientific. Your mind is an organ like any other, the most epic and important organ nonetheless, so the notion that it is “invincible” and that depression is just a frame of mind brought on by choosing to be sad is ludicrous.
Imagine, if you will, someone that has battled cancer for years. Perhaps their body is worn, their fight gone from their eyes, and they simply cannot go on. They pray for death and eventually, their prayers are answered and they are at peace.
Would you call them a coward?
Instead of judging those you know for having depression, we should reverse the stigma and band together to increase awareness. We walk for breast cancer, for ALS, for Parkinson’s…but even in 2014 it is still thought of as a shameful thing to be depressed.
It is not shameful to be depressed.
It is shameful to assume it’s due to political affiliation (Hi, Rush Limbaugh..I’m talking to you. I hope you get sand fleas in your underwear), or to refuse to do your research. It is not shameful to be depressed.
And, to my friends who battle depression, know this. You are not your depression. Just as someone is not defined by their endometriosis, cirrhosis, or glaucoma. You are not defined by your depression.
And you are not alone.
“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” – Robin Williams in Patch Adams
I’ve battled depression for awhile. For me it comes and goes, almost like waves, but I get it. You feel like you’re alone, like you’re trapped, and that no one else could possibly understand what it’s like to be you.
People may not understand completely, but there are people out there who will listen. They will listen to every single word and they will be there for you. I know that it can feel like you are drowning, but please try to hang on. Someone is coming with the lifeboat.
I think it also important, so very important, to understand that depression does not discriminate. Depression does not care whether you are a funny man or a somber man, whether you are rich or poor, depression does not differentiate.
I believe that Zelda Williams said it best when she said that we would all “just have to work twice as hard” to fill the world up with color and laughter again. She’s right, you know. Robin left us all to continue on the fight….and the fight is for all of us. The fight for laughter, for joy, to be who you are every minute of every day. The darkness that can consume you when you are battling depression can become all encompassing. It can swallow you. But I promise if you fight, if you believe in the color and the laughter of the world, you can shine your way through it.
And you will be lovely, and you will be brave.
Robin Williams was not a coward. He was a bright and shining star, but even stars can be covered by clouds.
Know this, even in your dimmest moments, those most questioning times when you feel that you are most alone, you are not.
Genie is there.
As is Mrs. Doubtfire with her soft lilt.
And Jack, Peter Pan, Mr. Keating, and Mork. Those facades of Robin, those characters filled with light and love, those are all there within us.
And they want you to keep on.
As for you Mr. Williams, my Captain, my Genie…you were extraordinary.
Until next time.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression help is available, 24/7
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project as well as http://www.iamalive.org offers online chat and text service in addition to phone help.
And even if we don’t know each other, friend me on Twitter @sillie_jillie I’m usually available and I’ll always listen.