My dad says something like, “Every 100 years or so, the world goes completely berserk”.
Think about it: Iraq, Gaza, Ferguson, Tea Party, government shutdown, Syria, airplane tragedies, Washington mudslides and forest fires, Ebola outbreak, Hawaii hurricanes…This is all fairly recent stuff, but I could probably go on for awhile.
But I’m most deeply heartbroken by the passing of Robin Williams. Not only that he died, but the fact that it was a suicide. Those are always the types of deaths that cut the deepest, especially with those as exquisitely talented as he was. I could understand old age, natural causes, a freak accident even. But a suicide? Oh my god, my heart has collapsed at the mere thought. For a man I never met, the impact of his life, and now his death, has been so profound. But that’s what’s so strange about celebrity, isn’t it? – The ability to touch the lives of those you’ve never even met. I always knew this day would come but not this year, not now.
To those who knew him and loved him personally, I cannot even imagine what they are going through. Here I am a microcosm of a microcosm of society and I feel this undeniable, superficial emotional pain. It must hurt 100-fold for them. And there’s nothing that can be said to alleviate the pain to something that doesn’t seem real, that’s nightmarish in a very frightening way, mostly due to the fact that it is reality.
This past April, another one of my favorite comedians died – John Pinette. Only 50. And I felt so upset. Again, almost like I knew him. I had seen him do standup at the Wellmont only a few months before. Pinette was no stranger to health problems (his whole act based on food and struggling with weight), but when I saw him on stage he looked so great! The best he’s ever looked. It was unbelievable to me that he died of a pulmonary embolism, though it was probably caused by his unhealthy eating habits over the course of his life.
I think there’s a dark side to any funny person. I suppose it goes to show that money, fame, and success are never enough to sustain one’s demons forever. I’m sure it was difficult for Williams to top his best work. It is for any great artist. I mean once you’ve made it, it’s gotta be difficult to stay up there. Sometimes that captivating dynamism we fall in love with as an audience transforms into an all too silent void when the door closes and they find themselves alone with only their thoughts. One can get lost in a bottomless pit of emotional oblivion there.
The fall semester of my sophomore year of college, two days a week, I had 3 classes back-to-back-to-back. When I finally got let out for lunch I’d buy a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda. I’d hurry back to my dorm and spend my lunch hour watching comedy specials illegally uploaded on YouTube – namely those by Kathy Griffin and Robin Williams. I’d laugh away my afternoon and get out of academia for awhile. It became a ritual for the rest of the year.
The day before Robin Williams killed himself, I had convinced my brother to help me set up the VHS player in our living room. We chose to watch Aladdin and cracked up all the while. A few hours before it was announced, we had found and watched a home recording of an episode of Star Trek Voyager called “Death Wish” about an omnipotent, immortal being wanting to commit suicide. The timing of the news report was eerie. My brother said he saw it on Twitter. I immediately refused to believe it. It was a hoax – had to be. But as I saw the mainstream sources of Entertainment Weekly, NBC, BBC, and CNN trickling in, my heart sank into my stomach.
So yeah, you can go on about how God needed another angel or how heaven needed more laughter. But to those who don’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian denotations, I prefer to think that this is how new talent is brought forth. I know that sounds harsh and possibly nonsensical. But honestly, it’s the only way I can justify it in my mind. Because as Life shows us time and time again, with death comes rebirth. We always reject it at first and get angry about it, but maybe there is someone new waiting in the wings. He or she can never replace Williams (or Pinette) but maybe will help us laugh in new ways, ways that would not have been noticed or appreciated if Williams were still alive.
I know. I hate it too. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But you know what? At the end of the day, the only thing we can do is to celebrate his life by remembering his love, vitality, and unparalleled sense of humor. There will never be another Robin Williams.