“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it”
– Robin Williams
Imagine being one of the most amazing well-known comedians and actors who could make people laugh. That is who Robin Williams was, he was a master at his craft who could bring to life any character he played. Robin Williams was a man with a smile that never faded, a heart full of love, but he was often misjudged. Even though Robin Williams brought so many people laughter, he was battling an inner demon that not many people knew about, depression. It's possible that Robin Williams used his comedy to mask his own personal problems away from the public eye. Depression tends to cause individuals to focus on all the negative and heighten sad emotions, which makes everyday things paralyzing and oppressive. Is it possible that Robin Williams dealt with his depression through comedy and laughing? The therapeutic action of laughter is striking on depression, laughter has an interesting way of changing brain chemistry. Sometimes laughter can be genuine and sometimes it can be a lie. Robins Williams found a magical way to mask the struggles he faced through laughter and the comedy he told.
“I used to think the worst thing in life is ending up all alone. It isn’t. The worst thing in life is ending up with people that make you feel all alone.”
– Robin Williams
Robin Williams was born in in Chicago on July 21, 1951, he had a privileged yet lonely childhood. Robin was a short, overweight, shy, and introverted child who would often create characters and conversations in his head to cure the loneliness he often felt. During his elementary years at school Robin was often bullied, returning home in tears, because of the constant harassment Robin suffered from a deep depression early on. This was something that he would follow him his entire life, creating a lifelong battle. Robin found comedy as a defense mechanism; it was also something that he shared with his mother. Laurie, Robins mom, had a sharp wit and would often use humor, laced with sarcasm, to communicate with her son. Robin felt that their share of comedy would bring them closer, but it was never good enough to be just Robin, he always had to make her laugh, he had to be funny Robin. In his high school years, Robin stumbled upon the drama department at his high school, it was here that he found his love for improv and his comedic personality started to emerge. After graduating from high school, Robin attended Claremont Men’s College, majoring in Political Science. He soon learned that he was spending more time in the college theater then in lecture, leaving behind his first major, Robin enrolled into a college theater program. During his classes he would often improvise, thus leaving his classmates and teachers in fits of laughter. His stellar performance as Fagin in the college production of Oliver, made it clear that he was destined for the limelight.
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After years of him homing in on his craft, Robin Williams was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity, a full ride scholarship to Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York City. At Juilliard Robin astounded his teachers and classmates, he was able to take on many personas and change his dialect for another dialect like he was born to it. After learning at Juilliard for 2 years his teachers told him that there was nothing more, they could do for him. One of his instructors considered Robin to be a genius who was not being properly served by the school’s conservative and classical training style (Biographics). In 1975 Robin Williams started doing standup comedy in the Los Angeles through that he was approached by George Schlatter who asked him to appear on his reboot of The Laugh-In (Ford). The Laugh-In ended up being a flop but it gave Robin the exposure he needed to land a guest appearance as a space alien on Happy Days, which would ultimately lead him to getting his own spin-off series in 1978 called Mork and Mindy. Fans were enchanted by his comedy instantly; they loved the manic free-associating character that Robin portrayed. Los Angeles is where he ultimately took the road to self-destruction.
Often people have no idea that they are suffering from a mental disorder and have gone several years without being diagnosed or seeking treatment. It is also proven that often someone who is struggling with both addiction and a psychological disorder is said to have a dual diagnosis or comorbid disorders (bhpalmbeach). Usually people that develop depression have triggers that cause them to enter a dark place mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For example, Robin’s triggers were his financial problems, marriage issues, and drug abuse (Media). He would try to make light of the issues he was facing in life through his comedy with jokes like “Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money’ but they changed it to alimony”. Even though he tried to make light of the demands and stress he faced his lifestyle dragged him into a downward spiral into the life of addiction and alcoholism. Even though he knew that playing with drugs and alcohol was like playing with fire, the pressure he felt wouldn’t let him rest, and escaping into his addictions allowed him to have a sense of relief from his hectic life. The comedian would often mix his real-life struggles into his comedy acts and often opened his performances with the following line “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you, you have to much money”. Because people were so enchanted by the comedian that he was, they often forgot that Robin was just a human being with real feelings, problems and a tough life. When he was on stage going on and on about his real-life struggles, it was as if he constantly cried out for help, yet no one realized that. After the birth of his son, and the death of his good friend and fellow comedian John Belushi, Robin checked himself into rehab. He remained sober for 20 years but in 2006 Robin Williams relapsed again and started drinking heavily. Robins Williams later told the New York Times that he hadn’t confronted the underlying issues at the root of his addiction, "There was still, in the background, this voice, like, 'Psst,' " he told the newspaper. "So, when I relapsed, I went back hard. The one thing I hadn't dealt with was, how honest do you want to live?" (Lewis). It was his son Zak that gave him an unknown ultimatum which forced Robin to get sober a second time.
Throughout his career, Robin proved often that he could take on any role successfully. He was more than a talented comedian; he was also a remarkable actor with the ability to go from a stand-up comedian right into the most serious roles. Because he could identify more with troubled characters, those are the roles he preferred most. Robin made his big screen debut in a lead role playing a spinach eating sailor in the film Popeye. In 1980 he also landed the lead role in The World According to Garp. In 1993 he took on the role of Mrs. Doubtfire which resembled the same struggles he had face in his life. The cast of Mrs. Doubtfire reunites after 25 years, remembering Robin Williams, Jakub, who played Williams’ daughter Lydia Hillard in the film, said Williams was candid about his mental health issues on set. His willingness to talk about his struggles has stayed with her, she said. “One of the most powerful things for me about working with him is that he was very open and honest with me talking about his issues with addiction, depression, and that was so powerful to me at 14. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life,” she said. His role in Mrs. Doubtfire was so good that he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor. In 1997 Robin Williams won his very first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting where he played a therapist to a genius who lived on the wrong side of the tracks. This was something that Robin was familiar with within his own life dealing with his addiction throughout the years. The list goes on, and for every film that Robin took part in, he had a requirement, the company hiring him, had to donate some of the fund to the homeless and hire a certain number of them and put them to work. As his solo comedian work aimed to astound and challenge, he made sure that most of his films reassured, or touched the heart in some way. Robin wanted to surprise his audience with every role that he took on, the way he saw it was that every actor could get into any character and convincingly play any role they were called to. As Robin put it “I love playing characters like this because you ‘re no longer bound by the laws of likeability and the audience get a surprise attack. People think ‘Oh, it’s that nice man, he wouldn’t do anything awful.’ And then they realize… He’s a prick!”.
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Months before his death Robin Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. It wasn’t until after Robins death that many discovered that he was diagnosed incorrectly. Robin suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, which was learned through the autopsy report. Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain and causes a progressive decline in mental abilities and some people may experience hallucinations, change in alertness and attention. Other effects include Parkinson’s disease like symptoms. Prior to his death Robin was filled with paranoia, anxiety, and was so confused that he couldn’t remember his lines. Depression quickly took hold of him, he was painfully thin, his face wrinkled, and he no longer cared about his appearance. He would sleep for 18 hours straight, constantly felt tired, and had no appetite. In many ways he was a different man and it was evident, the man who had always found a way to make the world laugh couldn’t even fake a smile like he used to. At 63 years old Robin Williams died of asphyxia caused by hanging in his home in Tiburon, San Francisco. Even when Robin wasn’t happy with himself, he always found a way to make other people happy, that was the magic of who he was. Robin Williams had always lived in his own reality, and his life was a movie about depression. Comedy truly lost one of its best that day, one who has left a legacy behind that continues to bring laughter to so many. People will always recall Robin as the comedian whose generosity matched his genius, and the star of his story who found the way to make the world laugh in the maddest, merriest ways. The beloved comedian will never be gone forever, because he will always live in our hearts.
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”
– Robin Williams
- bhpalmbeach. https://www..com/blog/robin-williams-addiction-and-mental-illness-know-no-bounds/. n.d.
- Biographics. https://biographics.org/robin-williams-biography-life-dark-comedy/. 21 November 2017.
- Ford, Brianna. https://stmuhistorymedia.org/the-pain-behind-the-smile-the-robin-williams-story/. 3 November 2018.
- Lewis, Hilary. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/robin-williams-death-his-cocaine-724802. 11 August 2014.
- Media, STMU History. https://stmuhistorymedia.org/the-pain-behind-the-smile-the-robin-williams-story/. 4 November 2018.
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