Letter from California: Robin Williams bids farewell to darkness
California said goodbye this week to one of its most beloved entertainers, actor and comedian, Robin Williams, who committed suicide on Aug. 11, in his home, near Tiburon, California, approximately 17 miles north of San Francisco. Williams had suffered for years with depression.
While California claimed him, it was Chicago, Illinois where his story first began. His story is the story of every person that begins life with a childhood possibly holding the key to future problems.
As a licensed psychotherapist, I am more interested in Williams the “person” rather than Williams the “star.” Too often, we look at people in Hollywood, as stars bigger than life, and imagine that they have everything that money can buy.
Therein lies the problem, because we often overlook what is going on in a person’s real life, and in the case of an actor like Williams, the life that exists after the show is over and long after the crowds have gone home.
It’s during those times, that a person is left totally alone with themselves, to confront their own demons in isolation and darkness. I believe Williams struggled with his own demons most, if not all of his life.
Early in life, Williams spent many days playing by himself with his 2,000 toy soldiers in his family’s 40-room farm home in Michigan, where his family had moved when Williams was young.
Williams described his childhood as leaving him with an acute fear of abandonment and with a condition he labeled as “Love Me Syndrome.” Even the fictitious condition he created for himself implies that he did not feel loved, yet longed to feel that love.
Williams has also portrayed his childhood as being one in which both parents were often away at work and maids took care of him.
He described his father as “frightening,” and said that he would often tell jokes to his mother so that she would pay attention to him. He also indicated that his only friends and companions were his imagination. His statements are illustrative of a boy crying out for attention and love.
Adding to Williams loneliness, was the fact that he claims he was bullied in school, which would have certainly caused even more pain for a child who already felt isolated from his own family.
His emotional pain seemed to have followed him into his days as a stand-up comedian when he began to struggle with alcohol and drug issues. These issues were most likely exacerbated by his many days and nights on the road in isolation without his family.
Williams described drugs and alcohol as his early ‘demons’. Perhaps these vices were used to numb the pain of a once lonely child, who came into adulthood, unprepared and burdened from a childhood wrought with the pain of emptiness yet, longing for fulfillment.
The star of “Good Morning, Vietnam” may not have found what he needed to fill the void, as an adult, during at least two of his marriages. Williams was no stranger to divorce, having gone through two failed marriages. He was married to his third wife at the time of his death.
Having watched Williams over the years on television and in movies, there seemed at times to be expressions on his face that could only be seen when the ‘hype’ of the comedian took a breather and the ‘man’ surfaced, if only momentarily.
These expressions, in my opinion, depicted a man full of humility, internal sadness, and an overwhelming compassion for others.
This stood out to me and I’ve seen those same looks on his face numerous times, but none more clearly than when he performed for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was also involved in charities for children and other worthy causes.
Perhaps, Williams became involved in charities so that he could give the love to others that he felt he never received himself. Only his close friends and family know for sure. On the other hand, perhaps, not even they were ever allowed to get close enough to know the true person at times.
It’s amazing to grasp how a man that was loved so much by so many may never have felt the love that poured out to him or even believed he was worthy of receiving it.
Williams appeared to me to be a man that was loved by the world, yet isolated by the very pain he carried deep within his soul.
We can look back and wish that someone would have noticed how depressed he was so that his suicide could have been prevented.
However, Williams may have masked his pain to those around him. After all, he was an actor, and an academy award-winning actor, in fact, that may have masked his true feelings from the public-eye and even from his family.
There is help and it is my hope and desire in writing this article, that someone who is suffering with depression, will reach out to receive help.
Each person is just that, a human being. We are all here for a fleeting moment and have something to contribute, just like Williams.
I believe Williams would be the first to encourage those contemplating suicide to get help because of his compassionate nature toward others.
If you are thinking about hurting yourself, please reach out for help instead, by calling 911 or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Bidding farewell to darkness and isolation doesn’t have to be by suicide! Please make the call!