You’re not perfect, sport.
But you came pretty damn close, and an American generation has lost its funnyman, its manic friend on Letterman’s couch and the kids’ VHS.
Robin Williams is dead at 63.
He fell victim to the demons he danced with for decades and ran from since childhood. They choked the life out of him in a California mansion on a nondescript summer weekend.
We are shocked, but not surprised.
Because genius is a form of illness, an aberration of the mind we are drawn to instead of repulsed by. And those who are brilliant are invariably wounded, a beneficial anomaly counterbalanced by a festering sore.
And he was just a shy kid whose dad moved around. From Chicago to Detroit to San Francisco, the power of his mind applied to the shield of comedy, a defense and a shtick, a way to be without really being. The best defense being a strong offense, the comic savant fills the room with other people’s laughter, insecure he takes control by taking stage, the center of attention but essentially alone.
You buy acceptance by being entertaining, the clown becomes the commander, a crutch becomes a masterpiece, a loner surrounded by fans.
But not friends.
Not when it’s at its worst.
Not when it cycles high and fast and crashes low and dark.
Not when it comes to its end.
Not when you’re 63 on a nondescript August weekend.
He gave such joy, but seems to have known so little of it himself. He lifted our spirits, but not his own. He stood by Jonathan Winters in that man’s season of tribulation, and supported and bankrolled Christopher Reeve in his years of struggle.
But he died alone, no friend to watch with him, no friend to dissuade him, no friend to carry him home.
Just the demons, the ones with coke on their nose and whiskey on their breath. The family of addictions that metastasized from servant to master, from escape to destiny. He used for the same reason he did everything, because he was afraid, because he was a little kid with an Oscar who loved a place but never truly found a home. Because when he needed to slow down or fortify himself against discomfort and anxiety he turned to the bottle, and the pills and the powders and a variety of tricks we politely call self-medication.
And maybe we should count it a victory that he didn’t end up naked on the bathroom floor like Lenny Bruce, with his kit around him, dead of an overdose. Maybe he took the rope because it was a last act of self-determination, a middle finger to circling substances about ready to inflict the coup de grace.
Which comes first, the addiction or the depression? As one feeds upon the other, ever escalating, save for the brief and deluded respite of rehab, which is the creator and which is the created? Each fuels the other, the cure enabling the disease until the mask falls away and they are the same thing. The same laughing demon crushing everything that is pure and precious.
Robin Williams is dead at 63.
And we smell our own mortality on the wind.
And we see the pattern of his life in people all around, not as gifted, not as successful, but just as wounded. Some of local flair or good repute, most of failed circumstance and meager means, the dregs we step over and look away from, the bums and the brothers-in-law, drinkers and dopers, misfits and lunatics.
Those who live in the swamp of infirmity, the valley of depression, where there is often loud laughter, but likewise soft whimpering.
Where the light of celebrity doesn’t shine.
Robin Williams was a troubled man, but he was really good at it, and he helped many along his way. His 63 years were beneficially spent, though bought at a high price, and the wound which predominates today does not eclipse the brilliance of the last many decades.
Yes, the demons won, but they usually do. And maybe in God’s eyes we are judged by how long we can hold them off.
In the case of this dear man, he held them off long enough to bring joy and escape to millions. He filled our cups though his own went dry.
Which puts us in his debt, and explains our grief.
And the odd sense of guilt we feel that he was a better friend to us than we were to him.