What To Make of Robin Williams?


Perhaps what’s missing from the average celebrity posse is a court jester. Seriously: someone to poke at the pedestal. Taking down with humor those on high–for their own good.

Ironic that maybe a court jester might have saved a wit like Robin Williams. I got the news from the young miss who has enjoyed much of the last decade or two of his career.

Jana Riess has a nice tribute at RNS. Mr Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, made this comment:

As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.

Not sure about this. Our culture is steeped in the avoidance of death. Of bad news. I’ve seen a comment or two about the “apparent” nature of this suicide. People don’t want to believe it. There’s something about still holding out hope it wasn’t as horrible as it seems, that is was Castro or the mob or the New World Order dissatisfied with just cancelling the man’s sitcom. Some of this was likely part of Mr Williams’ chronicled history with substance abuse. Life is too difficult, so let’s soothe our restlessness and dissatisfaction with some chemical compound to alter the mood. Like: it’s too bothersome to consider advocating for change in oneself and in the culture.

Are white men over sixty really the most susceptible to suicide? We look in the mirror most mornings, and we see things thinning at the top, sagging in the middle, and widen lower down. Maybe we look at life and wonder about the unfairness of youth being wasted on young men who don’t appreciate their good experiences. We consider we can’t perform (most sense of that term) as we did thirty or forty years ago. And we all know the culture is driven to performance. Especially by those who make their living as performers.

jokerBack to that court jester … it occurred to me that the excesses of celebrity life (and death)–as evidenced in people like Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain or such could be alleviated if they only had someone close telling them the truth. “No, it’s a crappy idea to resculpt your face, to indulge heroin, to listen to the demons of middle age.” And if a celeb can’t take the dose straight, like the royalty of ancient Europe, tell it with a joke while making a fashion faux pas or two.

I have no false hope that Robin Williams’ death will make any sort of a difference. There have been a long line of talents who have wasted their lives and committed suicide over the past decades. Fans mourn. Flowers are left. On some date, a tribute will be assembled. But then a new young talent will come along and help us forget. Some of us will follow in some dark footsteps to help us forget. When will we wise up and determine maybe it’s not good to forget? Do we need a clown to help us?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to What To Make of Robin Williams?

  1. John McGrath says:

    RIP. I have never been able to look at Robin Williams. His humor and sentimental uplift seemed forced to me, reminding me of some people I know who mask a deep depression with almost frantic laughter.

  2. Todd says:

    Maybe that’s partly why I found his dramatic roles to be so appealing. The Fisher King and Dead Poets were particularly memorable. And my wife says his Oscar was well deserved–I didn’t see Good Will Hunting. I suspect with guidance and direction he would have been a powerful talent in drama. But like Jim Carrey, another immense comic talent largely wasted, I think an unwillingness to submit to collaboration, direction, and stretching oneself beyond a comfort zone has hampered what might have been genius.

  3. I hope to link some thoughts I’ve assembled about this by tomorrow, Todd. They’re not simple thoughts.

  4. “But like Jim Carrey, another immense comic talent largely wasted, I think an unwillingness to submit to collaboration, direction, and stretching oneself beyond a comfort zone has hampered what might have been genius.”

    This could be generational (I suspect not) but linking Williams to Carrey does Robin a huge injustice. If Robin’s affection for the genius of Jonathan Winters (with whom our growing up years coincide) is “Moses,” Williams would then be Elijah. That deep.

  5. As I think there may be a protocol here that disables URL links, which is Todd’s absolute perogative to use, should anyone be interested in my thoughts further, please search “Optima Musica Dei Donum.”

  6. Or click on my name above.

  7. Todd says:

    … or click on Optima … on the sidebar. WordPress has a setting on links I haven’t changed. I think you can produce one per comment. But that’s it.

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