There's an old adage that clowns paint smiles on their faces to hide the sorrow that the person beneath the greasepaint is truly feeling. This has never been more evident than with the sudden and shocking suicide of Academy-Award Winning comedian Robin Williams.
Williams, who is best known for his comedy--from his stand up in the 1970s and '80s to his turn as Mork from Ork on Mork & Mindy to his feature films such as Good Morning, Vietnam and Aladdin (among many, many others)--was a true entertainer. He made people laugh. He made them think. He made them feel. All the while, battling crippling depression that was hidden for the most part.
Early in his career, Robin Williams abused substances--drugs and alcohol. Later, in interviews, Williams would say that the drugs and alcohol helped to dull his infinite sadness. He kicked those habits shortly after his friend and fellow comedian, John Belushi, overdosed in 1982. He became a father and husband. He took dramatic roles to high accolades in film such as Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. But deep down, that depression was still there, and today, that depression won.
Robin Williams isn't the first comedian to take his own life. After fighting depression just seven years ago, Richard Jeni, a popular comic, writer and actor killed himself. Jeni too battled depression in the form of anxiety and psychotic paranoia, and ultimately, lost his fight. There have been others, and there will continue to be more as comedians are more susceptible to depression than most other creative personalities.
There have been studies that have linked comedians and depression. Most recently, the British Journal of Psychiatry published a report that explained how comedians like Williams and Jeni scored higher than other creative types, like actors, on four dimensions of psychotic traits.
Comedians scored highest on two traits; introverted anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure from activities normally enjoyed, such as career success, raising a family or having a beloved fan base, and they scored high on extroverted impulsiveness, which if you have ever seen Robin Williams perform, explains him rather well. Rather than face the demons inside, Williams hid them with his chaotic, outgoing, lunacy. And we laughed. We all laughed.
But, no matter how hard Robin Williams worked to entertain, depression was there, always haunting him, always giving him doubt. The audience didn't know it because depression is a disease that one experiences on the inside. It's the most common of all mental health ailments, but those who suffer usually do so in silence. Oftentimes, the level of depression is never known until the person who suffers decides that they cannot suffer any longer.
Robin Williams was 63-years-old. He was one of the greatest entertainers of this generation, and he will forever be missed by those who enjoyed his immeasurable talents. Somehow, watching his films, old TV shows, videos and HBO specials will never replace the real thing as anyone who has ever had the joy spending an evening being entertained live by Robin Williams will tell you.
The saddest part of this tragedy, this end of William's long and silent battle, is that depression--like he experienced--can be treated. You do not have to go it alone, even though your brain is telling you otherwise. You don't have to hide behind jokes, comedy or greasepaint and suffer in silence. Suicide is not the only answer. Depression doesn't have to win. Ultimately, it took Robin Williams from the world and left a huge hole in the hearts of his fans.
Let this be the last battle that depression wins. Rest in Peace, Robin.
[Image Via robin-williams.net and bite.ca]