Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams' suicide reveals his hidden world

I have to confess it came as a shock to learn that actor Robin Williams committed suicide by hanging the other day at the age of 63. He seemed to possess this manic energy, whether on-screen or in public. Although he battled drug addiction behind the scenes, who knew that he was also fighting a losing battle against severe depression? He no doubt concealed very well from the world this “other” side. 

I don’t pretend to know the precise nature of the illness that caused him to take his own life. However, it is interesting to note that a person with bipolar disorder (formerly termed manic depression) can be on one hand extremely talkative, gregarious and unusually optimistic about him or herself and life—yet on the other hand be listless, miserable and generally uninterested in living, in which in extreme cases can lead to suicide. 

In any case, Williams is another performer whose fame was for another generation. He first made a household name for himself in the television sitcom Mork and Mindy, in which he played a Martian with an odd—and “manic”—sense of humor. Like Tom Hanks, who also started out in TV comedy, he made some so-so comedy films before gravitating into more serious films, eventually winning a best supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting

But one film I recall that at the time seemed completely out of character for him was One Hour Photo, in which Williams portrayed a slightly sociopathic shopping mall photo shop attendant who insinuated himself into a particular family’s existence by “examining” the photographs they brought in to be developed, without their knowledge. Unfortunately for the husband, the photo attendant happened to come across pictures of him with a woman other than his wife, and this discovery set the stage for the attendant’s own frightening brand of retribution. In hindsight, Williams’ convincing performance as a “well-meaning” psycho in this film may seems uncannily prescient of his own, hidden private troubles. 

Yet in the end, my image of Robin Williams that is hard to shake, and one that he apparently cultivated publicly, was that of a boy who never grew-up, forever youthful and exuberant even into his sixties. It is sad to discover that perhaps it was only a cover for his private, tortured reality.

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