Celebrity deaths happen frequently. Some by natural causes (last week Lauren Bacall at age 89), many by drug overdose (most recently Seymour Phillip Hoffman), but Robin Williams dying by his own hands is perplexingly sad.
He was a comic genius who could channel his imagination to alien and fantasy beings (Mork from Ork and the Genie in Alladin) or portraying real people as he did in “Good Morning Viet Nam” and “Patch Adams”. Then there was “Jumanji” where he played a child locked into a game where African animals came to life to wreck havoc, “The Bird Cage” where he played a gay man being straight for family appearances sake, “Mrs. Doubtfire” where he played a divorced father who dressed as a Nanny so he could be near his children: they all made us laugh.
His standup improvisations were unmatched and rapid fire delivery of multiple characters would cause us to hit the pause button and rewind to be sure we heard it all correctly. All so we could laugh some more.
When he appeared on late night talk shows, the hosts would introduce him then step back as Williams took over usually resulting in the host doubling up in laughter.
But lurking behind his genius was mental and emotional demons. Did one begat the other? Was the comic a cover for the mental shadows haunting him or did they inspire the humor? Was it the recently revealed diagnosis of early onset Parkinsons disease that cause him to step into the abyss?
It has been said that some of the saddest individuals inside are the clowns who make us laugh.
Williams’ suicide got me recalling a poem I first learned in high school in Mrs. Lewis English class and a song from an early Simon & Garfunkel album, based on that poem “Richard Corey.”
Richard Corey is admired and envied by many of his community. But the tale ends in such a way that causes us to think that even the most successful—the people we think have it all— can be haunted with their own demons.
The poem is by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town, we people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown, clean favored and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed, and he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said, ‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich – yes, richer than a king -and admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light, and went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head.