Like most times I learned that a legendary celebrity passed away, I was in shock and disbelief when I heard about Robin Williams’s death. Then I felt a sadness a person only feels when they don’t personally know that celebrity but only their work. But then I realized, I wasn’t even too familiar with his work. I’ve never seen Aladdin, which is something my friends deem as an unforgivable crime. I vaguely remember watching parts of Mrs. Doubtfire. The only movies I’ve seen of his were Night at the Museum, RV, and Dead Poets Society. So quite a diverse viewing. The former two were largely forgettable affairs, but I distinctly remember watching DPS in my freshman English class. Williams’s spirit and passion felt like beacons of light that managed to penetrate even through the outdated and dingy projector slide, felt by everyone in the room. His presence was captivating and inspiring, with the motto carpe diem forever ingrained in our minds, and the minds of all those who watched this great film.
Although I never saw most of his other movies, it’s evident he touched more audiences with his turns in Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, and many others. Williams’s kindness and generosity seemed to transcend the screen as well. He brought laughter and joy to all those around him, and everything I’ve read paints him as a wonderful and loving person.
The thing that strikes me the most, however, is his battle with alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression, the latter of which it seems like he lost. It’s crazy to me to see someone who brought so much happiness to others but couldn’t provide it for himself. Underneath this crazy and lovable exterior was a person who was struggling with his own demons. Furthermore, even though there has been media attention on the fact that he had depression, no one has been mentioning it in their twitter dedications or stories about Williams. Of course, it’s understandable to get wrapped up in emotions and talk about the profound influence that Williams had on acting, comedy, and even the world, but I think it’s also important to address his depression. Bringing his struggles to light can clear away some of the stigmas and stereotypes of depression and mental illness in general. It brings a face to this plight. Celebrities and those in the public eye have a great influence on societal expectations and standards. For example, when someone famous commits suicide, it increases the general suicide rate, and this happens not just in the US, but in countries like South Korea as well.
Depression and other mental illnesses are pervasively misunderstood. People who have a mental illness are constantly told that it’s because they’re not trying hard enough, or they’re merely going through a phase, or that it’s to get attention. Depression is associated with loners who do nothing but wallow in their misery all day. It’s a condition that is viewed by many as an excuse for idle and irresponsible behavior. Thus, a lot of people don’t treat it as a real disease. Because of such negative attitudes, people with mental illnesses are afraid to seek treatment because they think that they will be judged and mocked. From Robin Williams’s story, people can now realize that depression can even consume someone as great and talented as him. It’s not just an illness affecting only recluses and failures. Maybe then can people stop treating this subject so carelessly. Because for Williams, it obviously wasn’t a phase. It was debilitating and ultimately got the best of him. But his death doesn’t have to be in vain. His story can inspire people to be more open minded about depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc., so that those who suffer from such conditions don’t feel too alienated to seek the help they need. Because if we don’t start having more open dialogues about mental illness, and gain a better understanding of it, it might be too late for others out there. We shouldn’t have to lose more Robin Williamses, or Kurt Cobains, or Heath Ledgers, to realize this necessity. Obviously there are other factors that led to their deaths, as is the case with many others, but this is an essential starting point.