Today, I found out that Robin Williams had died. And I honestly could not be more bummed about it.
As a nineties baby, I was too young for Mork and Mindy, but was of course very familiar with his family films – perhaps too familiar: my Mrs Doubtfire VHS tape was so worn that in the end I could barely even sing along to “Dude Looks Like A Lady”. As a child I would do various Robin Williams impressions that were spontaneous but frequent and, as to be expected, I was very unpopular. I concluded that the only person who can do Robin Williams impressions is Robin Williams.
I was so shocked. I remember where I was when Michael Jackson had died, and Diana; the two most prolific celebrity deaths of my lifetime. With MJ, I was in a pub when a Mexican wave of gasps spread through the room of blustering drinkers. I knew that this was another one of those moments. But it was somehow different, somehow bigger, and it felt so much worse. Obviously no death has precedence over another – a life is a life after all. But this hit me hard. Trying to pass a few stray tears off as bleary-eyed tiredness, I realised this was the saddest I had ever felt over the death of someone I didn’t know. I was genuinely devastated. I found myself doing solemn hotdog impressions to everyone I had contact with for the rest of the day. A lady in Starbucks thought I was having a stroke.
I think it’s because he reminded me of my dad. I’m sure he reminded a lot of people of their dads. Williams was a big, hairy, feverish ball of energy. He was a shape shifter, jumping franticly from comedy to drama to thriller and back again with such ease.
What we failed to notice was the darkness that was surrounding him. Or rather, just how close it loomed in recent years. His lifelong demons were public knowledge and very occasionally we captured rare glimpses that there may have been something wrong, which are more informed with hindsight. It is terribly sad and, as always with mental health and addiction, it is misunderstood.
I have young, vague and unwanted recollections of seeing depression and an ongoing view into addiction that never ceases to be heartbreaking and infuriating all at once. It is crippling for everyone involved, and sometimes there’s no solution: sometimes therapy just doesn’t work. Narrow-minded people will blame Williams for his “selfish” addiction and, subsequently, his “selfish” death. But those people are wrong, and severely misinformed, and have a very two dimensional view of this situation. Both depression and addiction are sly and sneaky illnesses. They circle the confines of your mind; they feed of off fear and sadness and anxiety, getting bigger and stronger and, ultimately, they know the right time to pounce. Both change you into a person you don’t know or recognise. But as someone who has seen addiction up close, I know that it does not make you a bad person. Addiction takes you away, and replaces you with one of the most dangerous versions of yourself. But it’s not really you.
I obviously did not know Robin Williams – I doubt many people really did. His experiences of these things are probably very different to what I know of it. Depression and addiction come in all shapes and sizes. To me, it seems insane for people to comment on the circumstances of his death without really knowing anything about it. Which is why I’m inclined to say that everyone should focus on his life, rather than his death, like his widow Susan Schneider asked from his fans this morning.
So whether it’s having a food fight, rolling a five or an eight, setting your tits on fire (don’t set your tits on fire), farting in a tin, putting your face in a cake, going to see about a girl or sounding a barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, do whatever you want to remember the man that changed the world of comedy for the better. When I think of Robin Williams, I think of an awesome childhood. I hope that wherever he is now, he is happy. O Captain, my Captain.