I usually try to create some sort of clever title for my posts, as is my wont. Not today. It has taken me several days to even allow the truth in so that I might process it. To me, Jonathan Winters was the greatest comedian of all time. And obviously second, only by a nose, was his disciple Robin Williams.
In late 1975 I, half hippie seeker and half glitter rocker, ventured to San Francisco to find enlightenment and that perfect gig in the sky. Late in the same year I found a room in a lovely apartment in the Richmond district just north of Golden Gate Park. Several blocks away was a bar I would frequent to watch a band called Shadowfax. And several blocks further west on Clement St., the Richmond’s main drag, was a little place called the Holy City Zoo. One night I discovered Shadowfax wasn’t playing because of a band member’s illness and decided to venture further down Clement, unexplored territory as it was. Sitting down with an adult beverage I saw on the stage a young comedian, a little raw but with immense talent. It wasn’t difficult to see he was s star in the making.
Robin Williams was true to the “Zoo” until it it closed nearly a decade later. He came back frequently to test out new material and see old friends. Because of the early exposure to this immense talent I followed his career closely. He starred in what is probably my favorite film, the drastically under appreciated “What Dreams May Come”. He had access to places we only dream of. With such access comes a terrible price. This price sometimes cannot be paid. He could easily be compared to Shadowfax, who bore the weight of great knowledge and remarkable magic on his back. His death is tragic in a Shakespearean sense.
I haven’t been able to say anything about this yet. I have been unsure of when I could. But a friend posted a reference to Russ Limbaugh contending that his “leftist worldview” played a part in Robin’s actions. I was furious and still am. I immediate fired of a comment, driven by my anger. As I read it over I knew this was my expression, this is what poured out of my heartbroken soul.
I am reprinting it here. I couldn’t possibly state it better.
Sarah, I can’t bring myself to “like” such sad commentary as yours, that necessarily illuminates the darker side of life. But thank you for not being suckered into accepting the easy dismissal of the serious nature of our failure to address the issues confronting the mentally disordered. You have refused to regurgitate the convenient and conventional condemnations that have been so casually and callously tossed about it the media. You don’t blindly accept the standard gutless and flimsy excuses. These are good things. Robin was not a coward. Rather we are the cowards for not having the guts and compassion to confront depression and other such mental disorders, such as the one I suffer from, Bipolar Disorder.
Last time I checked the brain was part of the body, and as such they are truly serious diseases of the body, like so many others, that require serious considerations for treatment. We have to fight the extant public stigma to the death. Our allegedly loving and compassionate society must give those who suffer mental dis-order our determined efforts to save them from the ravages of these serious illnesses, the same as we give cancer patients, to name but one example.
Am I angry? Damn straight I am. I was a hair’s breadth from the same fate as Robin. I have been inside the cauldron and I claim a modest right to address this issue with a humble level of authority. Some existentialists will say the only truly human decision to leave behind a hopelessly tormented, demented and unholy life is that one made by Robin. Yes, that decrepit life is rotting just around one of life’s corners, but there are many rooms in my father’s house, many other corners to peek around, hesitant and fearful, unsure of what lurks around them. And yet there are so many wonders waiting there for us, even for those who sometimes need to be pulled away from the darkest corners into the light. Every one of us needs to be pulled from the fire at least some time in their life.
Joy has no meaning without sorrow. But if we can only know wisdom through suffering know that we do need not to suffer continuously. We intuit, with support from any and all scripture, as well as sane secular counsel, that we, as a society, can fight relentlessly to free us from the Sisyphus fate of being captured in cycles of pain, caused by any number of devastating dis-eases. We have, can and will defeat them. But can we, as a people, regain some of our inherent compassionate heritage and open our vision to include mental disorders in that litany of destructive cycles? I pray we can and do, sooner rather than later.
I feel lucky to still breathe the air and witness another daily sunrise. A door opened for me at the last moment and behold, there were instantly four new corners to explore, and one revealed a path that led to renewed life. How many of us have lost their way in the dark and could not find the door that led them to safety? Something as simple as a nightlight fashioned from empathy and love could save so many.
It is frightening and deadly dangerous to have the courage to venture into those areas of the mind that release such otherworldly talent but are also populated by monsters inconceivable to those of us incapable of even knowing those places exist. We suck in the entertaining energy of that talent’s expression. We bask in it’s light and laugh til it hurts. But do we give anything back? We all know you don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. We emptied Robin’s well even as we loved him. There was no water left to sustain him. We are complicit but blameless. Robin went there willingly. He chose that path. It was the corner of the room that shone brightest to him. He saw the demons there but was compelled to bring the shining joy back to us anyway. In the end the monsters won.
We cannot judge. When one is both courageous and a fool who are we to choose which he is? Not I, nor you, nor anyone. There is only one judge.