Do you feel like you’re alone, Will?
For many of us, the news of Robin Williams’ suicide was so jarring at least partly because Williams was so good at what he did. We believed in his character. We looked at Williams and saw a zany, irreverent, wickedly funny and suprisingly rangy actor who surely lived inside his own personal laugh track. That’s not to say the public was ignorant of Williams’ addictions and struggles; it’s just that, as with so many other great comedians before him, his gift outshone his life. Robin Williams was a joyful comedian, and so it is natural to think of him as a joyful man. Alas, this was not the case.
Williams was able to infuse his comedic personas with a kinetic charm that might be unsurpassed in the modern film era. Unlike Jim Carrey, Williams’s performances were rarely oversold; he struck an astonishing balance between over the top crazy and warm tenderness. His gifts were shaded a bit towards the end of his career, a span that saw Williams pursue more family oriented comedies and safer, minor roles. But his gifts are indisputable. No one who sees Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Dead Poets Society or Patch Adams will forget the experience. And that, more than anything, is the test of a movie star.
I was saddened to see that a man who had imparted so much joy and humanity to some of my favorite movies had (reportedly) taken his own life. It made me meditate on two truths. First, as I’ve witnessed so many times before, wealth and fame do not make glad the heart. Solomon’s testimonies to vain pursuits are still with us. Second, smiles and laughter may serve to cover a broken and despairing soul. We humans are actors, all of us, and we script our characters in large part to cover our silent exit from the stage. Let me never assume that I or my neighbor is beyond the danger of despair.
Christians are not immune to the quicksand of addiction, as I will gladly testify from experience. It is Christ Himself who offers fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Even as he fell in his last battle, I hope Robin Williams was introduced to Him who carried our sorrows and bore our diseases. I hope to meet him one day; it would indeed complete the joy his gifts gave me so many times.