Robin Williams, an amazing actor and comedian, committed suicide today. He hung himself. He was 63. My family’s car ride to dinner sounded like a game, the kind where people say things that connect to other things: “Mrs. Doubtfire.” “Dead Poets Society.” “The Birdcage.” “Mork & Mindy.” “Goodwill Hunting.” And of course, “RV.”
Being as old as I am, I was shocked. I knew nothing about rehab or his ongoing depression. Robin Williams was an Oscar-winning comedian; he made his living on laughs. How could someone who found the humor in everything also find the need to die?
“Comedy is acting out optimism.” ~ Robin Williams
And then I remembered David Foster Wallace, one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, who also hung himself back in 2008. I remember thinking then, “He was so vulnerable in his writing. This makes sense. How can someone be so raw, so open, without suffering for it?” And for some reason, I accepted DFW’s suicide because he was a writer, and because I had been taught that genius often came with a streak of madness. Because people who saw the world so differently from the rest of us might miss the reasons to live like the rest of us. And because I also loved Virginia Woolf.
“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” ~ David Foster Wallace
I forgot that vulnerability has two sides in the arts and entertainment business. Vulnerability is just finding the truth inside yourself and wearing it for everyone to see. But you can wear it in tears, or with a smile on your face. Your vulnerability can make others cry, or make them laugh. And if comedians can find the humor in everything, they can also find the vulnerabilities in themselves.
And still, I wonder why, at undoubtedly the most vulnerable moment of their lives, my two favorite funny men could not find the humor. Or maybe they did find it, as always, but they still found a more compelling reason to end it all. Because for them, humor may not have been a reasonable thing. It was simply a means of communicating a much bigger truth. I can’t imagine that this truth ended with their deaths. But it’s sad to think that their ability to tell it did.
“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human … is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” ~ David Foster Wallace