June Newsletter
     August 31, 2014       |   Santa Barbara, California                  


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[Note: This was written a few days after Robin Williams died on August 11th.]

I dreamt about Robin Williams last night.

There were a lot of us there for his going away party. As for “us,” I don’t know who we all were but it was a small group, maybe 25 or 30, and we were there to say goodbye to him. It wasn’t that he was dying, or even dead, but something more like a retirement party or he was moving out of town. We were all sad, but also filled with love for our friend, co-worker, warm acquaintance or whatever he meant to each of us.

He wasn’t “ Robin Williams,” the famous actor, great comedian, and world renowned performer guy we had gathered to say goodbye to. I mean, he was that same guy, but not to us. As far as I could tell no one there felt that kind of nervousness, the kind when you realize you’re standing near someone super famous. He was just Robin, our friend. There was no sense of saying goodbye to a movie star, just a friend.

I hugged him and remembered feeling I would miss him a lot. Some part of me knew I probably wouldn’t see much of him after he moved. That’s just what happens, even in the over-connected, social networked society we live in today. He would become a face on FaceBook, but the odds of us getting together again in person, were greatly diminished now that he was leaving. I realized I would miss his friendship, and felt a kind of resigned, quiet sadness mixed with understanding and acceptance. My feeling in the dream was that Robin was someone with whom I could be myself. He was someone whose company I always enjoyed and looked forward to. He wasn’t this manic funny man at all when we were together. He was a quieter, more relaxed, empathic gentle guy who was easy to hang out with.

The strangeness of this dream is I wouldn’t say I’m an over-the-top, rabid Robin Williams fan. [Try to say that 3 times fast]

He made me laugh, yes. His bit on the origin of golf is still one of the most hilarious routines I've ever seen. I thought he was uniquely talented and funny when he got into that crazy stream of consciousness stuff, especially when it seemed totally improvised on a late night talk show. Other comedians have described these Robin Williams moments as “being in the zone,” or literally “channeling” some type of universal silliness and comedy. He was his own, completely original funny man. You never confused him for anyone else.

I think the world had certain expectations of him. We wanted to see him go crazy, out of control, take over the talk show he was on, stand on the chair, and basically make it impossible for the host to ask more than two questions because they were laughing so hard. We wanted an out-of-body experience and watched Robin speed-improv truly hysterical stuff with dozens of different dialects. Crazy, wild Robin.

But I also recall quite clearly, feeling tense when I watched him as the years rolled by.

There was such a manic quality to his improv that I began to worry he felt he could never be a relaxed, mellow, “OFF” version of himself. Perhaps it was all projection on my part, but I wondered if he didn’t feel the freedom to be anything but “ON,” all the time. Like the world’s love was conditional on him always being this deranged, insane, funny man all the time. It began to stress me out to imagine how much pressure that might be and how exhausting to fulfill those wishes every time. I don’t know if any of this was true for him, but it made it hard for me to watch those “interviews” as time rolled by. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that he was an exhausted, trapped, extremely talented man who didn’t know how to step off the carousel.

In my much smaller world, I’ve felt something that might be vaguely similar to this. I’ve taken up the challenging path of being a humor writer and it’s really, really demanding to be consistently funny. People view humor differently than other genres. It either succeeds, or it fails, with the random occasional middle ground of “cute,” which means they "like" you, but it wasn’t very funny. Folks never read an article or essay and say, “It wasn’t serious enough,” but we’re exceedingly judgmental when something billed as “humor” doesn’t make us laugh.

When things are funny, people love the writer or performer who made them laugh. Ask any kid in school who repeatedly gets in trouble for talking why she/he does it. It’s often because we’re trying to get a laugh. Laughter is one of the most pleasurable things we experience in life. It’s right up there with love, sex, food and drink. It’s practically a carnal pleasure. It’s this release we get without having to cry. Or we laugh so hard, we call it “crying.”

Laughter is a golden part of being human and the people that make us laugh are heroes.

More than heroes, they are beloved. And underneath it all, I think that’s why comedians try to make us laugh. They love looking in our faces and seeing the joy and the loss of control. I think they also crave the love we’re sending them. They get to vent, they get to complain, they get to scream, curse, clown, discharge and completely lose it on stage if they can make it funny. If it’s funny, we give them love.

I think they’re in it for the love.

Robin tried so hard on camera. He struggled with cocaine addiction before his kids were born, but long after sobriety, it was still as if he had 19 cups of coffee in him all the time. And no matter how hard we laughed, he seemed compelled to keep pushing. I never met the man, but I always had this sense watching him that the love we gave him wore off faster and faster as life progressed. Some years back when he talked about his struggles with depression, I didn’t miss a beat. Of course. It made perfect sense. Maybe our laughter had become his drug of choice to keep depression at bay. And sadly, perhaps he was developing a tolerance to it.

I say this with some trepidation knowing there are many who loved Robin’s work on film, but I thought he was a decent actor, not brilliant. There was always this odd tension in his mouth and jaw when he acted in more serious roles. I may be very much alone in this feeling, but for me, it took away from the characters and reminded me there was this insane comedian just below the surface. With a few notable exceptions, I never forgot I was watching Robin Williams. I’m pleased he was honored with an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, but I liked him more in his comedic roles like Mrs. Doubtfire and the crazy homeless guy in The Fisher King.

Shortly after his death, Robin’s family announced that in addition to his battles with severe depression and issues with alcohol and drugs, he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s which makes all of those problems worse. Apparently Parkinson’s amplifies them. There were some unconfirmed reports of major financial problems as well.

When I first heard that he committed suicide, my mind, which should know better, went to that place. That weird, societal place where I felt ashamed and embarrassed for him and his family. That was my preconscious reaction to it. I was raised to believe that suicide was “shameful,” “cowardly,” and “selfish.” How could he do this to his wife and children? They will have to live with that “shame” and “stain” on their lives. What kind of legacy did he leave for them, much less his own life and career?

Then I read the articles about depression and drug abuse. A day or two later, I read about a horrible event in my own home town of Santa Barbara where a father killed his 2 parents, 2 boys (10 & 13) and the dog before phoning 911 and waiting quietly for them to arrive. Why didn’t this guy commit suicide rather than harming those he must have loved? Suicide would have been an honorable exit in that case. Was it honorable in Robin’s? I don’t know. I’m not comfortable with the word “honorable,” but I want to move away from the place of judging the lives of those that I did not, and cannot, know.

More than anything, the adjective that fits uncontested next to suicide is “sad.” I’m sad things got so bad for Robin that he could see no other way. I know people who battle depression and it often tends to be a chemical imbalance they don’t have full control over. There are many for whom even the latest prescription medications offer little or no relief.  Most of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, have friends or acquaintances who suffer from it.

If Robin Williams battled severe depression, it may be a miracle he survived as long as he did. Perhaps that was why he had to stay so manic all the time, stay so UP, so ON. Maybe it was the only way he knew how to keep from sliding back into the heaviness that rests upon the heart and throat. The more I thought about it from this point of view, the more compassion, empathy, and understanding filled me, replacing the knee-jerk shame and embarrassment parade that had initially rolled through.

The dream, like dreams do, wandered off into another tableau. I woke feeling some disbelief that I didn’t actually know him in real life, and yet had had this really warm, lovely goodbye moment with him a few days after his death.

While I’m not sure where he is, I suspect Robin’s in a good place now. I think he’s no longer in pain and if there is sentience after life he probably just wants those who miss him to heal from his sudden, desperate departure. My wish for his wife and adult children is that they can grieve as fully and freely as they need to. My hope is that Robin’s death can lead to a greater understanding of 3 significant diseases affecting our society: Addiction, Depression, and now Parkinson’s. I wager one or more of those affects a significant part of our world today and while we definitely need more medical research, we also need greater societal understanding of the people who suffer from them. It’s through understanding, that compassion and better solutions can flower.

Robin worked most of his career to hire and assist the homeless.  Along with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, founded Comic Relief which raised tens of millions of dollars.  With repeated USO tours he entertained over 100,000 of our troops.  By all reports, he was a truly kind and generous man.

Robin, if you were anything like the man you were in my dream last night, I know you will be deeply missed by those you were close to.

Goodbye, my friend.


Robin Williams 1953-2014