Watching my son go through his newly learned paces during his weekly taekwondo, my phone vibrated and I saw the headline “Celebrity Death — Robin Williams dead at 63." A wave of sadness washed over me.
I had only met the iconic comedian a few times, less than I could count on one hand, but I felt a profound sense of loss, usually reserved for family members and pets.
When I saw that it was by his own hand I felt as though someone had literally smacked me in the stomach with a shovel. I didn’t realize I had tears streaming down my cheeks until one splashed on the picture of Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire that accompanied the article on my phone.
Robin Williams was not only a comedian to me but THE comedian. He was Mork from Ork, whom I watched battle the Fonz, and one of the forces of laughter that made me want to pursue comedy.
He was a great entertainer. One of my fondest memories is almost 25 years old, when I was first starting out in comedy. I had sweet talked my way onto a stage in Seattle with a mazillion other comedian wannabees all hoping to be the next big thing.
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Just as I stepped on stage someone said, “Holy Crap, Robin Williams just walked into the club!”
I went on stage to a healthy ovation, and walked off after my set to much less of an ovation. I kinda ate it. I was bummed until the green room door opened up and Robin Williams walked in and right up to me and stated with an over-the-moon cartoon-like grandiosity.
“Good job! You are one of the funniest people I have ever seen!”
Wow! Really? I had just seen this guy in Dead Again and here he is giving me this huge compliment on a set that I thought should be best not spoken of.
I was floating until I heard him say the same thing to the comic standing directly behind me, and then to the other comic across the room, and finally Williams just turned to us all and told us that we all did a great job and to keep working on it … then walked out the door.
As I kept reading the various articles that came forth as the evening went on about Williams’ battles with addiction and depression, and how he had chosen to end his life, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had been able to feel the raw love that was pouring forth from his friends, family and fans.
Would it have made a difference in his actions? We will never know that answer, just as we will never know why. That is between Williams and his higher power.
I do know what depression can do, how depression is that gremlin that lives within some of us.
It feeds off our doubt, fear, insecurities and creates self-loathing and desperation. It is a non-discriminate creature who lies to us and convinces us we are not good enough to be successful, happy; that we are not worth the love of others or more importantly, ourselves.
It can make you feel so bitterly alone, not only in a crowd but even in the arms of our most cherished people.
People were so very surprised when they learned of Williams' suicide, as most only saw him as a successful, powerful, and rich icon of the entertainment industry.
I know from personal experience, you only let people see what you want them to see. You wear the comedy mask in public, never the tragedy.
Depression will stake me to my bed, not letting me rise until I have to step on stage. On stage, I am in control of my surroundings. I control the outcome and what people see.
When the waves of applause roll over me, and people are telling me how wonderful the show was, they have no idea that a few short hours earlier I was deep under my covers sobbing in the foetal position.
Silence the stigma
I have already heard about how he “took the coward’s way out” or “how could he do this?”
That is the stigma talking.
Depression is a flaw in chemistry not a flaw in character.
The only good that may come of this is if we celebrate the life and laughter that Williams brought us, and focus on talking openly about why he chose to take that life.
There will never be another Robin Williams.
You could try to imitate him, but it would be like trying to imitate a jet — you could jump off the ground and flap your arms real hard but you will never reach the meteoric rise to the heights of comedy as he did.
Make a list
What I encourage everyone to do is make a list.
Write down five names of people whom you trust and love you.
People that will listen and not just wait for their turn to talk. Keep copies of that list in various places, your wallet, phone, tacked up where you can see it on the fridge.
Make the list when your mind is clear and use that list when the beast depression or its confidence-ravaging cousin anxiety creeps into your life.
Start calling people at the top of the list and work your way down. These are people who love you and will care for you.
The list shows you are never alone.
When in darkness call your local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Mood Disorders or the suicide hotline. Together you can find the light in the tunnel.
You are never alone. We love you.
Now I am going to go cuddle my son, watch Aladdin and have a bit of a cry.
Big Daddy Tazz is a Winnipeg-based comedian living with mental illness, and someone who believes it's time to give stigma a bad name.