Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams Stamps His Own Passport

Robin Williams starred in what is likely the most life-affirming movie ever made, Dead Poet's Society, but he ended his own life this week, echoing the despair of a suicidal actor he wept for in that film. What can we learn from this? Williams was one of the world's most gifted, sensitive and intelligent artists, yet he wasn't very happy. What does that mean for the rest of us? In Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam and What Dreams May Come, Williams personified lust for life. In his last day, he devoted his sharp mind and manic energy primarily to stopping his own heartbeat. What do we make of all this?

Life lesson #1: high career acheivement is insufficient for happiness. At the peak of his success, Robin Williams was widely regarded as the supreme comic mind on the planet. A tiny slowing of his lightning-fast wit with maturity probably only made his comedy more relatable and more accessible to more people. He surely had many years of artistic contribution left ahead in the future. Yet, acheivement and adulation are never enough when that's what you're living for. Williams was once despondent that a week after he won the Oscar fans were calling him "Mork" again. Like many comedians, he medicated inner pain by seeking love from his audience. Like many actors, he was deeply insecure about who he was, but needed people to approve of who he was anyway. So, his spot at the top of the heap was never secure enough to provide any lasting peace. Career can allow you to make meaningful contributions with your life, but never bank your happiness on its trajectory. If comic and dramatic genius Robin Williams couldn't get enough to satisfy, you surely won't either.

Life lesson #2: we all need love and love is all we need. With or without career acheivement of Robin Williams magnitude, many people find happiness in loving and being loved. Some find love with the opposite gender helping complete their own nature. Some feel love from a caring creator who offers compassion despite our imperfection. How sad it is that Robin was adored everywhere but didn't feel affirmed in the place where it counts: his own heart. Love makes life worth living. Are you gettin' enough?

Life lesson #3: suicide is a tragedy. Whenever people off themselves, they're usually knee deep in depression (which blurs our grasp of the classic wisdom: where there's life there's hope) or knee deep in self absorption (which deludes us into believing our happiness is all that matters). Suicide is not going out in a blaze of glory or the unforgivable sin. Suicide is a wrong exit off the highway of life, but who among us has taken no wrong turns on this journey. Robin Williams' life helped millions of people laugh. Let's hope his death will help millions of people understand that laughter is just not enough. Robin Williams the artist and the man will be deeply missed. Carpe diem.


  1. A great actor. I found him utterly hilarious as a comedian, but somehow I found him all the more compelling when he was being a serious actor.

  2. Yep. I can't think of anyone in Hollywood who seems more genuine or empathizing. A little unstable or insecure? Well, nobody's perfect. I'm a little weary of the media's need to explain Robin's decision as residual guilt from snorting coke with John Belushi or the early stages of trauma from Parkinson's. Whether Robin made an unstable or selfish decision, I made several of each on the same day. Lucky for me, mine turned out not to be fatal, but so what? Gandhi still has the best recipe for evaluating ourselves and others: hate the sin but love the sinner. We all need to look in the mirror and accept that we fall short but God loves us anyway, so we can damn well care for others and they can damn well care for us. That's the best self and other esteem formula I have found in my global travels, plus it saves a lot of money on therapy. God bless Robin Williams. On the bright side, he escaped listening to all our psychoanalysis. Maybe that's what he was goin' for.