I've been going to bed shamefully late during this summer holiday and so I happened to see the reports of Robin Williams death just minutes after they appeared online. Such a statement was hard to take in; it just wouldn't process that such a brilliant man was dead and that he'd taken his own life.
I love stand-up comedy and if ever there was a king of the impromptu, and a master of the ad-lib, surely that had to be Robin Williams. His comic genius knew no bounds and he could free-wheel his way through a routine with no destination or prepared lines to hold manicness in check, just an uncontrolled explosion of hilarity. It was that high octane energy that shook audiences to their core with laughter. As a headline in one of the papers read, 'He needed cocaine to keep himself calm'!
It wasn't just the ability to make you laugh that Williams will be remembered for. He inspired a whole generation of teachers in Dead Poets Society and made grown men cry in Good Will Hunting. As one critic famously put it that 'humpty dumpty grin and crinkly eyes' made for such a convincing character that it was hard to believe he was simply acting. Sincerity and understanding leached from the screen in bucket loads and left the viewer wishing to have such a teacher, such a mentor and such a counsellor as Robin Williams. Such irony then that he did not feel able to reach out to someone for support himself.
His death made me ponder as to why so often creative genius seems to come with the parasitic twin of mental anguish? It's hard to imagine how far down the tunnel of despair he must have travelled that he could see no way out. He is, perhaps, the best evidence of depression as an invisible illness - 'the smiling disease' as it's sometimes referred to. A skilled and consummate actor, he hid his anguish from the world. Perhaps that extraordinary act of humour was not as effortless as it appeared but instead a carefully crafted mask, honed to allow him to cope with an inescapable and all consuming sadness.
I hope that if nothing else his death and the inevitable publicity may prompt more recognition and more acceptance of depression and anxiety and persuade others to speak up and ask for help.