Forget the phoney psychoanalysis and celebrate Robin Williams

23:59, Aug 12 2014
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Robin Williams receives the Stand Up Icon Award during the 2012 Comedy Awards in New York
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Robin Williams onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2013.
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Robin Williams holds his Oscar after winning best performance by an actor in a supporting role in 1998 for his role "Good Will Hunting".
Robin Williams stars in his 1996 movie "Jack".
Robin Williams stars in his 1996 movie "Jack".
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Cast member Robin Williams gestures at a panel for the television series "The Crazy Ones" last year.
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Williams doing what he did best, at the 6th Annual Stand Up For Heroes in 2012.
Actor Robin Williams speaks onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013 as a picture of him in the cast of TV show Mork and Mindy is screened behind him.
Actor Robin Williams speaks onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013 as a picture of him in the cast of TV show Mork and Mindy is screened behind him.
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Robin Williams and Ben Stiller in "Night at the Museum".
Robin Williams stars in the 1995 movie, Jumanji.
Robin Williams stars in the 1995 movie, Jumanji.
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Robin Williams and daughter Zelda Williams at the premiere of their film "House of D" in 2005.
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Robin Williams and wife Susan Schneider arrive at the premiere of "Happy Feet Two" in Los Angeles in 2011.
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Robin Williams entertains US Army troops as part of a USO Holiday Tour, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2003.
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Al Pacino and Robin Williams in a scene from the suspense thriller film "Insomnia" in 2002.
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Robin Williams shares a laugh by phone with the wife of a police officer working near the site of the World Trade Center collapse in Manhattan on Oct 17, 2001. Williams spent time with rescue workers as well as surprising their wives with phone calls.
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Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams share a hug on the stage of New York's Radio City Music Hall at the end of HBO's "Comic Relief 8" show June 14. The show raises funds for homeless projects.
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Scottish comedian Billy Connolly with his close friend Robin Williams, at a Lornach Highland gathering in Strathdon, Scotland, in 2000.
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Britain's Prince Charles meets Robin Williams backstage at the Wimbledon Theatre, London, in 2008, during a charity performance in aid of the Prince's Trust.
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Robin Williams' wife Susan Schneider has paid tribute to the star: 'This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.'

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.

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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