It’s 1.40am in London and the news of Robin William’s death broke a couple of hours ago. He has been found dead at the age of 63, apparently from suicide, after a battle with depression.
I wanted to write this now, before going to bed and then waking up and thinking it through all over again. Before I read too much in the media, both general and social – things that might colour or inform my thought process. I want this to come from just me, right now, sort of raw. Many people have already said so many things about this legend, this great man, and in the coming hours and days more will be said about him. I didn’t know him and I have no connection to him and I don’t pretend to know anything about his life but I am the following things:
- A wellbeing writer for this wonderful blog.
- A sufferer of depression.
- A child of the early 1990’s.
- The Pan. No wait, discard that one for now.
And it is in these capacities that I write this – it may be a garble of half-formed thoughts, but I suspect that is ok. I don’t write the following thinking that I am by any means the only person thinking these thoughts tonight. But they come from the heart.
I grew up with Hook, and Ferngully, and Aladdin. I had these films on video – they played on repeat in our house. I idolized Robin Williams in all his child-friendly forms and laughed heartily and hard and quoted the Genie, and Peter Pan, and Batty Koda over and over again (Price check on prune juice Bob!). This man brought light and joy and side-splitting laughter to my childhood, at a time when it was becoming difficult to come by. I wasn’t oblivious to the tension in my household. It was a largely fraught place, filled with the presence of two adults who were losing the ability to live together, and trying very hard to hide it for the sake of their two children, getting rather difficult to ignore. I wasn’t an unhappy child by any means but when that tension started to bubble over, there were those characters on the screen for me to escape with and accompany on adventures and there always, always was the teasing, reassuring, wise-despite-being-so-completely-silly voice of Robin Williams to chivvy me through it all.
And then came Mrs Doubtfire, in 1993. The same year my parents got divorced. The film helped me make sense of everything that was happening and would continue to happen and I will never forget the gentle, comforting speech made by Robin Williams dressed up as an old Scottish woman at the end of the film:
You know, some parents, when they’re angry, they get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear. And if they don’t, don’t blame yourself. Just because they don’t love each other anymore, doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. There are all sorts of different families. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families….But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right… bye-bye.
I always, always knew that everything was going to be alright, and that the situation that was happening in my life was absolutely for the best, and that it absolutely was not my fault – and it wasn’t because of anything that anyone in my real life said to me. I already knew, without them having to tell me. Because Mrs Doubtfire had already explained it to me, and so of course it was true.
And that is how it was, with this wonderful actor and comedian who decided yesterday that he just wasn’t for this world anymore. He would laugh and joke and execute perfect physical comedy routines and put on all manner of ridiculous voices and in his adult comedy (not that I was aware of it at the time) he would be crass and direct and honest and cutting and hilarious. He managed to marry slapstick, preposterous silliness with absolute wisdom and truth – both for adults and children. He tickled us. He reassured us. He distracted us, and he made us feel better about life, and he spoke to us all on levels that everyone, no matter the age, could understand and find reason in. He brought happiness – through our television screens and into our lives. Indeed, he was such a part of my young life that he may as well have been sitting on my sofa, painted blue with smoke for legs, wearing a Peter Pan costume and a white curly wig and reciting a Velociraptor Rap directly to me.
As I grew into an adult, I became aware of his other work, and watched in particular What Dreams May Come (one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen) and One Hour Photo (one of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen) with interest and amazement at his ability to capture so much of the darker human emotions and conditions that, while not often thought about or considered, are nonetheless real and present in all of us on some level.
As I grew older still, I read that he had problems with drugs and etc – it did not shock me, as I was fast learning that a human being is a many layered thing and laughter can exist perfectly comfortably alongside turmoil and despair. I had been diagnosed with depression at 17. I knew what it was to be more than one thing at once, and to wear many faces.
Depression is a battle that is fought every day. It doesn’t go away. It can exist with laughter and light and joy and it’s easy to use those things to buoy up yourself and others too, to paper over the cracks that are showing and hope very much that those cracks become filled and sealed up by positivity and fun. We encourage each other to see the up side, to list the happy things, to look for the positives – and it is important to do those things. They can really help. But it is also important to remember that while those things can help you through, they cannot always fix what is underneath. When it comes time to stop laughing and look those darker aspects of life right in the face, it’s important that we are not scared to do so. For ourselves, and to help each other.
I’m not saying that Robin Williams failed in any way. I’m not saying that anybody failed him either. Sometimes, for whatever reason, nothing is enough. I feel like a bad well being writer for saying this to you but come on, let’s be honest – we know that it’s true. And when it is true, it is a terrible tragedy. The very best we can do for ourselves and for each other is to be there, to help and to talk and to find a way back to the laughter and the joy. The funny voices and pantomime routines.
Robin Williams was not just a very funny man, he was a genius, who helped a lot of people. He helped me. And now I am here, in whatever small way I can, to try my very best to help someone else. So here are my pearls of wisdom, taught to me by a master of comedy and of portraying humanity in all it’s forms:
- Laugh when you can
- Talk when you need to
- Get help when you must
- Look out for each other.
- Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop.
- Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
- You are the Pan. (We are not discounting this one after all. We can all be the Pan, so there)
Join our tribe
We promise to pop a whole host of good stuff into your inbox every Wednesday to brighten up your week. Can't say fairer than that now can we?