I was catching a brief nap in our guest room, I’d been up way early doing work stuff in the forums and emails and such. Rochelle woke me by saying “there’s sad news from the Internet.”
I was blinking back sleepiness, my brain has had way too many times of being awakened for need of action that it has become a tendency to activate 30% of my brain to process quickly. It’s almost an autonomic skill where I start doing things I want or need to do about one minute before I actually become conscious of it. The only bad part of that is snapping to consciousness and then processing what that 30% was doing vs. what’s the right direction to go in.
At first I thought it was a work thing, but realized that was the 30% mode. Brainfuzzy, I almost immediately then understood someone had been lost. Some contribution we all benefited from had ceased. That’s what sad news on the Internet usually means.
She sat down next to the bed and said “Robin Williams has passed away.”
I was flummoxed.
*That* can’t be.
There’s not an Earth I have occupied without the power of Robin Williams. I don’t want to live on an Earth without him. Then, almost immediately I thought, “Oh my god, his heart.” because I remembered he had had an aortic valve replacement. Then, one millisecond later I remembered he had checked back into rehab recently. All of this, all of it, processed in the space of probably one, maybe two seconds.
Not once did suicide occur to me.
I grabbed my phone and CNN had already broken the news of “death by asphyxiation” and I fell into despair. They only use that term for hanging or overdose.
I’m a humorist, not a comedian. I make the distinction because I love to make people laugh, and my method of standup and writing is more the storytelling aspect, if you happen to laugh then yay. But a comedian throws such effort, such passion, such talent into making people laugh with the concept of a one liner or jokes or storytelling that I feel that’s not the right way to describe me. I’m not in the class.
Robin Williams was a supernova of comedy.
The craft of being on stage is impossible to describe to an audience. I’m fortunate, I tend to be in front of audiences that are safe, for lack of a better word. I don’t do club standup I tend to perform in front of people who know they have come to see me. But comedians earning their living have to deal with hecklers or hostile crowds in addition to their human and psychological need to entertain and to make people laugh.
Not every comedian has demons they exorcise through comedy, I’m not trying to say that at all. But Bruce, Farley, Belushi, Kaufman, Hedberg, and now Williams. That’s just a short list. Those people rose above the ranks, and became the powerful entertainers of multiple generations.
I laid there blinking back tears. I tweeted “Oh no. oh no no no” because I could not think of any other way to articulate. I did not even think to hashtag it or give it context.
I remember Mork on Happy Days. Happy Days was sort of a fixture in our house when I was a child. The episodes with Mork were like nothing I had ever seen. Robin Williams had this smirk, this…way of shrugging his shoulders while smiling then immediately going 100% stone faced serious that was unlike anything I would ever see again. It made Mork human and alien at the same time. It was masterful.
Later as a kid I became addicted to “Evening at the Improv” on cable. And I saw my beloved Mork say the line “Behold! The moon, like a testicle, hangs low in the night sky!” making fun of Shakespeare. I laughed so hard my stomach was sore the next day. I thought of being on a stage and making people laugh that way.
We all probably have our Williams films or shows. Mork, Garp, Dead Poet’s Society, Fisher King, Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Hook, 24 Hour Photo, Insomnia, Birdcage…gifts. They are all of them gifts. Gifts of drama, or comedy, or hope, or even despair.
I don’t know depression, although panic and I have recently nodded heads at each other. I can’t fathom it, not from the standpoint of ignorance, but from the standpoint of hearing and understanding those who suffer from it. I cannot understand what it is like to feel it because I am fortunate enough to not suffer from it, and the knowledge of that is important when talking to those who suffer from it. I finally saw the far shore people who suffer from it stand on when someone put it this way “I’d kill myself if I just had the energy to get up and do it.”
I started reading the news reports through tears and I knew what had happened. Robin Williams had decided to end his pain. We are all the less for that, but someone tweeted “You’re not suffering anymore” and that made me just lose it.
Steven Spielberg once told a story that during the filming of Schindler’s List the subject matter was so overwhelming he called Robin Williams to ask him to make him laugh.
What an incredible pressure that must have been. They were friends of course, so I don’t mean to speak ill of Spielberg. But what a pressure that must have been, to be someone who is always “on” when needed. Someone who can be called upon to cheer us all up.
I remembered laying there that Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve were roommates and best friends at Julliard. Christopher Reeve is a hero of mine. Robin Williams is too.
I don’t believe in an afterlife.
I watched the twitter reactions roll in, posted many of my own. But just for a moment I wanted to believe there’s something beyond our experiences that we think of as our lives.
I wanted to believe it because Robin Williams gave us such a great gift in his body of work, such a powerful engine that we can run whenever we want to and it will take us to the places that we need to travel to emotionally.
In that moment before I had to get up and go through the “life moves on” phase, I wanted so much to think of a bright paint covered world, where a hero who died because he couldn’t physically feel pain any more said to the one whose pain was more than he could bear, “Good to see you friend, that bad part is done with.”