Forget the phoney psychoanalysis and celebrate Robin Williams
People die every day. In their thousands, in their millions and in a horrible variety of ways. We are forever being saddened, shocked and repulsed by the deaths we see and hear about. But only occasionally does a death really shake us, make us reconsider whether we actually understand anything, make us feel we are on shifting ground and that, in Auden's words, "nothing now can come to any good".
Such a time comes when we hear of a death that seems so unexpected, unnecessary and untimely; the death of a man who had been so funny and beloved and alive that the very idea of his death appears as an absurdity.
Right now Robin Williams is being eulogised by people across the globe and posthumously psychoanalysed by nearly as many. So many of us have a sense of bereavement like losing a friend. That's the beautiful thing about fame: people feel like they know you. And that's the terrible thing about fame: people feel like they know you.
I'm a comedian, and I suffer from depression, and it's oh so tempting to take the opportunity to paint myself as Williams' brother in arms. How comforting it can be, in dark moments, to imagine something shared with such a man, to think you're part of the brotherhood of tortured artists, fighting gallantly against those demons that are the price of a creative mind.
But I mustn't, and we mustn't, because it's nonsense. To romanticise mental illness is to deny its bleak, drab horror. To cast it as an artistic curse is to do disservice to all who suffer, whether they be artists or not
Most of all, to wisely stroke our chins and nod and devise pithy little summaries of why Williams departed is to forget that one essential fact: we didn't know him.
I don't know the details of any illnesses Williams suffered. I don't know what was going on in his life as it drew to an end. I don\'t know what filled his head as he made that final dreadful decision. I don't know what he went through, the dark tunnels he may have stared down or the prisons he found himself in.
I do know that the brain is a frustrating web of treacherous chemicals that can easily turn its own instinct for self-preservation inside out. I do know that it can be nearly impossible to fight off your own emotions when the weapon you're using against this enemy is also the enemy itself. I do know that it's possible to know you're loved and be certain that you're not at the same time.
Robin Williams became famous playing an alien and gave every impression of having arrived from the stars himself to teach us dull earthlings how to laugh.
We've lost so many to suicide. We will lose many more. We can reduce that number, we can save lives. To do so we need to talk about it and, more importantly, listen. And we need to be sure, when we talk, that we know what we're talking about.
We won't do it by looking at a man we never knew and pretending we did.
I will not speculate. I will not say "if only he had done this or that". I will not say I know what he went through and I will not say, in reference to anything, "that's what he would have wanted". For, as much as I wish I knew him, I didn't.
Instead, I will celebrate what I did know - that Williams was an artist of such astounding ability, an entertainer of such strange creativity and boundless energy that he made being a comedian look like being a superhero. This man who became famous playing an alien and gave every impression of having arrived from the stars himself to teach us dull earthlings how to laugh.
Williams was funny and, for him, "funny" wasn't an adjective, it was a synonym. But he wasn't just funny; he was an actor of rare talent and humanity.
What may have caused him to need to leave us we don't know, but we do know he left behind works that will be delighting the world long after we're gone ourselves.
We didn't know him, but we're better for knowing of him. On this day when our foundations are shaken and the world seems pitiless and beyond redemption, go and watch something with Williams in it, to remind yourself of how beautiful it still can be.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.
Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.
Alcohol & Drug Helpline 0800 787 797
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to 11pm)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)
If it is an emergency or you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111
For information about suicide prevention, see http://www.spinz.org.nz.
Sydney Morning Herald