Robin Williams – Did Art Imitate Life?

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it”
~Robin Williams

In the week since his death, many have written many posts, articles, opinions, etc. There’s those that debate whether suicide is or isn’t selfish and others stating depression, not the act of suicide, is what killed him. Then there are those who have taken to harassing his children via social media by criticizing how they’re mourning and remembering their father.

It’s all a bit of madness and it’s all begun to drive me, personally, into madness.

I stepped away from social media and the news this weekend just to get a break from it because of how deeply it was personally affecting me. Not just all the posts and opinions on it, something much more was eating away at me.

Why? Why did he feel the need to put out his spark?

Sadly, we’ll never know why. And that… That makes my mind reel. I am one who needs to know why. Especially since it’s Robin Williams. Almost anyone else I would have wondered why, for a moment, and moved on, but with Robin, I couldn’t. So, I stepped away from it all for the weekend and took, instead, to his movies. Had myself a little Robin Williams movie marathon.

I wanted to stop hearing about and focusing on the final day of his life and appreciate him for the 40 years of himself he gave to us. I don’t think I’ve laughed, and cried, so much in one weekend. But something more happened. I saw something I’d not ever noticed before. The underlying commonality in a great majority of his movies.

Strained father/son relationshipLife’s Pressures, Money Trouble

This made me curious about his life.

Robin was born in 1951 to Robert, age 45 and Laurie, age 28 Williams. He was an only child, but had much older half brothers from his mother’s first marriage. His father was very successful, a VP at Ford Motor Co, and his mother was an actress/model. Her great grandfather was a senator and governor in Mississippi.

Robert was a cold and rigid man. He was stern, demanding, emotionally unavailable and had no sense of humor. He expected perfect behavior from Robin, but no matter how hard he tried, it was never good enough for his father. When he did do something that was above and beyond, the praise was played down.

Robin spent much of his time alone. He was, basically, raised by their maid/nanny. In the time he spent alone he began creating imaginary characters, giving them voices and making them real. He said he would play hide and seek with their dog.

His mother, Laurie, was busy with her modeling and volunteer work, but when she was around he learned pretty early on that he could make her laugh. He used comedy in order to connect with her and keep her attention.

Robin Williams Child

He moved around a lot. He was always the new kid in class and bullied because he was short and overweight. As a defense, he took to sports and making kids laugh. If he could get kids to laugh, that kept them from hitting him.

When he was 18 was when he began to dabble with drugs. When the family moved to California, the drug use worsened. He went to a men’s college in LA and began to hang with the ‘hippies’ and got involved with theater. So much so, his studies suffered and he flunked out, having to return home.

Eventually went to a school in San Francisco to pursue acting and used his comic ability working in the comedy clubs. He’s said he’s never felt more alive than when he had an audience.

In 1973, Juliard came to SF to find students and when Robin was found, they offered him a full scholarship in the advanced program. He was one of only two students that year to receive such an honor. The other was Christopher Reeves, they were roommates and were life-long friends up until Reeve’s death in 2004.

His acting career really began taking off in 1978. That same year, he married his first wife, Valerie Velardi and had one son (Zak) with her. When his son was born, and after spending the evening with Jon Belushi the night he died, Robin quit using drugs cold turkey.

In 1984, Robin had an affair with a cocktail waitress, who sued him for giving her herpes – it was settled out of court, and eventually their marriage ended in 1988. Previous to which he’d begun a relationship with Zak’s nanny, Marsha Garces Williams.

Robin and Marsha were married in 1989. She was 7 months pregnant at the time. They had 2 children. She filed for divorce from Robin in 2008 stating that the ‘trust’ had been lost because Robin checked himself into rehab as he briefly relapsed into drug use.

He then went on to marry his third wife, Susan Schneider, and was married to her at the time of his death.

The two divorces and the lawsuit with the cocktail waitress bled him dry costing him well over 35 million dollars. He sold his multi-million dollar home and said he began to take less than stellar roles just to pay the bills – (alimony).

“Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money,’ but they changed it to ‘alimony.'”
At age 62 he went back to TV to do “The Crazy Ones” that was cancelled May of this year.
Here we have an actor winning 56 of 67 prestigious award nominations returning to television. Not saying TV is a bad thing, it’s not. It’s great. But for someone to start in TV, make it as big and as far as he did and then returning to TV… It’s kind of like going from the minor league, to the major league and then back to the minors before he was washed up and too old to play. It just doesn’t make sense – until you consider the money troubles.

Eight of Robin’s films included suicide in them. He was either suicidal, another character was or someone actually committed suicide. For example, Dead Poet’s Society, The Fisher King, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Father’s Day.good will hunting quote

Seven had someone with depression in them. Examples would be The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Death to Smoochy.

Several had strained father/son relationships, the pressures of life getting to people and someone with financial trouble. Examples are Sieze the Day, Cadillac Man, Dead Again, Hook, Jumanji, The Big White, RV.

One has to wonder, did he pick these roles because he was so familiar with the feeling? Did he consciously choose them or did they choose him?

In the movie Jack he makes a speech about how fleeting life is. Awakenings is about learning to appreciate life. One of the best quotes I think I have ever heard, and is so applicable to me, personally, is from the movie World’s Greatest Dad.

“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone” ~Robin Williams, World’s Greatest Dad

I can’t help but wonder if that was one of the ad libbed lines he was famous for. He’d known loneliness as a child. The only way he could connect with his mother and get her attention was to make her laugh. He truly was with people who made him feel alone.

So, after learning all I have learned about his life and knowing that he’d recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, here is my opinion of why he felt suicide was his only option.It was clear he had money problems. His statement about taking less than stellar roles, having to sell homes, 35 million in alimony and taking a TV gig to keep a steady paycheck pretty much prove that.

Then his show was cancelled. Not only no more steady paycheck, nor more audience. Plus feeling like he’d failed – I’m sure – didn’t help. And then the Parkinson’s diagnosis. As that gets out and progresses, he knew jobs would be harder to find and get, which means – no way to pay the bills and never having an audience.

If the thing that most makes someone feel alive – an audience – is removed from them, it’s understandable why one would be depressed. That’s what my brain says when it asks “why?”. Am I right? I have no idea. I’m sure it was far more complex than that, but depression always is. Depression, with all that heaped on top of it would make anyone feel like the walls are closing in. I’ve had feelings of hopelessness for far less. I can’t imagine having the world watching while I was going through it.

I only wish some of the lines from his many wonderful movies would have spoken to him.

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish, and think of me. Make your life spectacular.” ~Robin Williams, Jack

One thing is for sure. He made his life spectacular and brightened ours while doing it. Rest well, Captain. Thanks for all the laughs.

robin william captain o captain


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Posted in Just Sayin'


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