Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley shares some thoughts on the passing of Robin Williams.
Death is rarely, if ever, a laughing matter, especially when it claims one of the funniest individuals on the planet, as it did last week when Robin Williams took his life at his home near San Francisco.
My heart goes out to Williams’ three children and his wife, who must not only deal with the shocking death of a loved one, but with haunting self-inquiries such as: Why didn’t I see this coming? What could I have done to have prevented it?
Truth be told a death such as Williams’ is much like an earthquake in that there may have been few, if any, warning signs before the devastation begins.
Fortunately my life has never been impacted by a suicide, but it almost was when I was a boy of maybe 9 or 10.
I was awakened one morning by the sound of my mother calling my name, only her voice had a pitch I’d never heard before. It wasn’t the “get out of bed and get ready for school” bellow I frequently heard. That day I heard my name being called with a voice filled with the alarm one would expect to hear if it was discovered their house was on fire.
I sprang from bed and dashed to the guest bedroom. I abruptly stopped in the doorway as I tried to process the sight I was witnessing: My mother and father grappling over a rifle. Mom was trying without success to take the rifle away from my Dad, whose intent was to put the business end of the gun into his mouth and use a toe to pull the trigger. Between my mother’s efforts and my father’s state of intoxication, it was a stalemate.
My mother ordered me not to join the tussle, but to instead go and call the police, who thankfully came quickly and brought a safe conclusion to the incident.
Why would my father attempt to take such a drastic step? I know I never heard an answer to that question, which knowing my family, was never asked.
From the outside it doesn’t make sense why Williams, a man adored by millions of fans and loved by his family, would choose to end his life. He had what most people list would make them happy and content: Fame, an assortment of awards for his work, financial security, steady employment, a beautiful home, respect of his peers. And yet it wasn’t enough.
It was reported in the past week that Williams had been suffering from severe depression. One possible reason for that state of mind is the fact he was experiencing the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a message carrying-chemical, or neurotransmitter, that is important for movement. Symptoms can start with a barely noticeable trembling but worsen to difficulty walking and talking, depression and other disabilities. There’s no cure and the drugs used to treat the condition usually stop helping over time, according to a story I found at nbcnews.com.
Not only could the Parkinson’s have contributed to Williams’ depression, but it’s not uncommon for entertainers, particularly those who specialize in comedy, to use their “funny business” to mask a personal pain deep inside.
"Comedy can often be a defensive posture against depression," said Deborah Serani, a clinical psychologist who treats performers with depression and other mental health problems. In an ABC News story she added that for many comedians, humor is a "counter phobic" response to the darkness and sadness they feel.
Williams himself described an internal voice that tormented him at times.
"You have an internal critic, an internal drive that says, 'OK, you can do more.' Maybe that's what keeps you going," Williams said. "Maybe that's a demon. ... Some people say, 'It's a muse.' No, it's not a muse! It's a demon!”
Not only are there demons that demand “do more,” but those who torture souls with constant whispers of “you’ve no options; life only gets worse from here; end it now.” While some people are able to prevail against those negative messages, unfortunately in Williams’ case the demons won out.