Heartbroken and crushed. This describes so many of our hearts this morning with the news of Robin Williams’ tragic death. I wept yesterday as I heard the news: apparent suicide by asphyxiation. We hear of celebrity deaths with relative frequency, and while each life is a loss, some register on a more personal level than others. Robin Williams is especially hurtful to me, and it appears that he is to others, as well. I don’t know what it is that registers with each of us so heavily.
It could be the range of his talent; trained at Juliard and masterfully easing in and out of a wide range of characters, from improvisational, high-speed humor to deeply emotional portrayals. I think of his stand-up act where he enters the stage, looking out into the atmosphere and proclaiming, “The moon, like a testicle, hangs low in the sky.” I think of my two favorite movies of all time: Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. In Good Will Hunting, Robin gives a young Matt Damon a lesson on what it means to live and to feel. One of my favorite scenes ever in a movie is when he tells Damon’s character that the abuse he suffered wasn’t his fault, to which Damon says he knows. What happens from there is so powerful I cry every time I see it. (Note: this scene does contain strong language).
In Dead Poets Society, Williams is a masterful teacher, both of poetry and life. His performance and that movie contain some of my favorite things in life: teaching, reading, poetry, mentoring, and going against the grain. There are so many scenes from which to choose, but these two capture most of what I just said:
Maybe what resonates so deeply with me is his eyes. Robin Williams had the kindest eyes. There’s a scene in the movie City of Angels where, after Meg Ryan dies, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Franz are sitting together at a table, neither of them speaking, not needing to speak. They simply look into one another’s eyes, into one another’s souls, and that says everything that needs to be said. I feel like that when I look into Robin Williams’ eyes. Like it’s a glimpse into his soul and there is so much there.
Maybe it’s the fact that I understand addiction and, to an extent, depression. I’ve never wanted to kill myself, but I have spent seasons of life in which I did not want to get out of bed; I simply plodded through the days putting one foot in front of the other, catastrophic news, exceptional news, and grocery lists all registering the same to me on an emotional scale, and biding the time until I could return to sleep again. There was comfort in sleep. It is kind of like in Queen’s song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “I don’t want to die. I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” There’s so much in the world right now: deadly plagues, innocent children being slaughtered, corruption, civil unrest, tear gas in our streets, and the smaller, personal, everyday tragedies. I identify with his willingness to continue to fight in his announcement that he was returning to rehab a month ago to avoid a relapse and I identify with his hopelessness that then led to his crossing a line from which he can never return.
Maybe it’s the fact that he took his life at the age of 63. The only other person I know that committed suicide so late in life was my grandfather. Although statistics prove me wrong (45-64 year-old white males have the highest rate of suicide according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), I intuitively think that with age comes a wisdom and experience that says that no matter how bad things are, and no matter how good things are, they will change. This too shall pass. And, after all, he’d made it through most of his life.
Whatever it is, the loss of Robin Williams to suicide is heart-breaking. Although his father was Episcopalian and his mother was a Christian Scientist, I don’t know where he stood in terms of faith. I know in the play of life he certainly contributed a verse. I pray God has mercy on his soul and that he’s experiencing what he hoped would be at the end in heaven when he was asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio: he’s in a front-row seat listening to Mozart, and Elvis, and an artist of his choosing, and God tells him a joke that begins with, “Two Jews walk into a bar….”.
I also pray that for anyone struggling with depression, especially those who may be considering suicide as an option, that you talk to someone. Remember that you matter. You matter to your family. You matter to your friends. And you especially matter to God. Please get help. The website is here or you can call directly: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).