By Sakhi Nair
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior editor,The Indian Economist
The recent death of Robin Williams came as a grave shock to the world of comedy. As friends, family and fans remembered him as the man who made the world laugh, Billy Crystal at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards paid tribute to one of his dearest friends, and in his emotional speech called him “the brightest star in a comedy galaxy.” The tribute video showed Williams doing some of his funniest impressions, and then slowly exiting into the darkness. We could never imagine that the man, who we always remembered for his inimitable idiosyncratic humour, would resort to ending his own life.
Robin Williams entertained audiences of all ages with family movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, to Disney movies like Aladdin and Flubber. It was impossible to picture Aladdin without the blue Genie voiced by Williams, his hilarious yet tender portrayal of a father dressing up as a nanny to reconcile with his children in Mrs. Doubtfire, or his character of a quirky and awkward scientist in Flubber. He made his way through Hollywood with his silver screen debut as a fast-talking radio-jockey on Good Morning, Vietnam, but his best performances were as an English teacher who taught his students to “seize the day’’ in the coming of age drama Dead Poets Society, and of an empathetic therapist in Good Will Hunting, which earned him his sole Oscar win. He will always be remembered for his hilarious, yet subtle nuttiness, and his ability to reach the audience, whether it was through their heart or their funny bone. It was immensely disheartening that his life was unexpectedly, a paradox.
While he was the man who made generations laugh, he was suffering from chronic depression, and had struggled with substance abuse in the past, which he often referenced in his jokes. He taught us to live our life to the fullest, without any worries, but he himself was a broken man. Addicted to entertaining people and making them laugh, the inability to do so would bother him, and his colleagues revealed that he would crack jokes even in-between takes just to keep the flow. The cancellation of his TV-show The Crazy Ones, failed marriages and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease lowered his spirit and made him completely miserable, making him spend his last few months dejected and isolated, worrying those around him. Quite disturbingly, he was found hanging by a belt and with cuts on his wrists. He lit up the screen, although his own life was anything but sunshine. His death brought an outpour of grief and mourning from his fans, and it is only ironic that a man loved by millions felt lonely. He served as an inspiration to many aspiring comedians, but no one could replicate his unique style. Fame, money, success, and adoration – they have it all, but yet, the dizzying heights of success can be a lonely place to be. Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” It gets difficult to live under the pressure and scrutiny of the spotlight that they once craved. The death of the comic genius reminds one of other comedians who, while making the world laugh, could not contain their own tears, like Charlie Chaplin, Spike Milligan and Spalding Grey. What’s the connection between comedians and depression? The sad clown façade has always been a regular feature in the world of comedy. Psychologists say that comedians have personality profiles similar to those who have mental health problems like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They have extreme personalities, and it takes a certain degree of madness to make fun of oneself in public, and manic thinking produces whacky, outlandish and funny ideas. Comedians are more to manic depression. The funniest people are sometimes, the saddest.
Robin Williams has left us with memories that will be etched in our hearts for perpetuity. He has been an integral part of my life, right from childhood, and will continue to be so. There is no deed nobler than making the world laugh, and Robin Williams was a gift to mankind. He made people laugh, one joke at a time. He was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy, the loss of whom has left us in darkness.
Sakhi is a 12th grade student planning to pursue Mass Communication. She is a keen observer of everything that her eyes can see and never leaves herself out of a stimulating conversation. She considers the freedom of expression to be the fourth necessity of life and believes the world could be a better place if we could just listen. Her interests include photography, music and satire. You can wade through her musings at http://www.neuroticpeanuts.blogspot.com.