On Robin Williams and being dead

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Robin Williams died today, and the odes and tributes have already started rolling in. He was a great actor, a great comedian, one of the true talents of a generation. And, to be clear, I agree with all the sentiments. All of them. He was one of my favorites, and I am terribly saddened.

That being said, at times like these I believe it important to make clear one important fact: Robin Williams is dead.

He is not on a cloud.

He is not in heaven with Richard Pryor and George Carlin.

He is not resting in peace. Because, when you’re dead, you’re not resting. You’re dead.

I know this comes off as somewhat callous, and I can accept that and understand criticism. Because what we have here, I believe, is both a tragedy and a teaching moment. Across America, there are—surely—thousands of young people contemplating suicide. They feel like outcasts. They feel unwanted. They feel ignored and useless. Suicide is a loud BANG! It screams, “I’ll show them!” and “Wait’ll I do this!”

Well, there’s one big problem: Once you commit suicide, you’re not around to see it. You won’t hear the reactions. There will be no pleasure for you, no revenge or spite or glee. You won’t be famous, because—in order to be famous—you have to be aware of fame.

You won’t be aware. You’ll be dead.

There’s no glory in this, just as there’s no glory for Robin Williams. Even as hundreds of thousands of fans write RIP on Twitter; as the masses prepare to leave flowers on his front porch, his body is in a morgue, forever, eternally lifeless, pulse-less, nonexistent.

It is a fate that inevitably greets us all.

Yet it is nothing to aspire to.

5 thoughts on “On Robin Williams and being dead”

  1. This reads like something that was written in response to a mass shooting or some similar tragedy where a person clearly wants their death to be accompanied by some kind of fame, ill-gotten though it may be. I really, really, really, really don’t think the average person who is contemplating suicide feels that way. It’s less, “I’ll show them!” and more, “I can’t take this anymore. No matter what is waiting for me on the other side, it has to be better than what I’m going through right now.”

    Everyone has a breaking point. Most of us are fortunate enough to never come within sight of it, but many are not. Those who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts every day could use the support of those around them without having to consider the notion that those same people think they’re just faking it to get attention.

    One of the things I enjoy about your writing, Jeff, is that you’re willing to admit when you’re way off on an issue. I hope this is one of those times.

    1. I agree with you OMDQ. I believe Robin WIlliams battled Bipolar Disorder for many years…I believe he consciously decided he no longer wanted to suffer.

    2. “Something like a mass shooting”? Do 18 suicides daily, including Vets, qualify? If 18 students hanged themselves every day next week would that justify Jeff’s take? Suicide is an act that frees the victims and puts those who loved them through five very lengthy Stages of Grief. I loved Robin’s work but he has left the rest of us with an image of a rope slung over a beam. We need people who can make us laugh, now more than ever, and we’ve lost one of the greatest. I wish that Robin would have called Billy Crystal, or anybody who loved him.

  2. My real quibble with this is the notion that RW “consciously” decided to end it. I’m sure he made a decision and that it appeared voluntary to him. But was it rational? When you’re in the midst of depression, you’re not in control of events; events are controlling you. And what I’ve learned in dealing with depressed people is that, yes, you need to be there for them, and let them know you’re there for them, and that you know depression is real — boy, is it ever — but in the end, that’s not what brings people out of depression.

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