Vail Daily column: Comic genius leaves us mourning
August 14, 2014
I'll bet Robin Williams didn't count on becoming the poster boy for suicide.
What one-liner would he have come up for that? Guaranteed it would have had us howling, only later wondering, Why in the hell were we laughing? Well, because it was so funny. Duh.
The comedians for the ages have you doubling over at first, then thinking quite soberly upon reflection. He did that often in life. No one was laughing, though, with the rather stunning news this week.
How could he see past his own agony and a ferocious need to remove himself from our world right now? If not selfish — and it might be — that moment of truth requires a certain single-minded intensity.
His death gripped us in ways I don't think even other luminaries would have if they had done the same thing. Funny man, a sweetness even in the coarsest dialogue that slipped through, poignant performances in serious roles, he both awed with his obvious genius and pulled us in with this expression somehow of a fragile humanity in the undertow.
He stood out in a society awash in celebrity. He touched me a little extra, anyway. He connected as a performer even if cursed, as one longtime friend remarked, with a paucity of people skills. He could tell a great joke to a packed house, but had real trouble with a real conversation with a single person. At least that's what I've gleaned from reading about this national tragedy.
Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole. Comedian-actor takes himself out. Big deal. Not like he was the president or a general, right?
But I don't know. He meant more, somehow, to so many of us. And our image of him didn't include killing himself, although I'm sure his friends and family feared the very thing for a long time.
Perhaps my feeling is tied to my age. He sprung into my life when my entire college dorm crowded around the television in the community room for some dumb show called "Mork & Mindy."
The show indeed was dumb, but wow. This Mork dude not only was hilarious, but incredibly improvisationally so. I obviously wasn't the only one to note this, and then follow him ever afterward.
Take a note, you fools who still believe the key to happiness turns on becoming rich, famous and that's pretty much it because the hot red sports car, penthouse and gorgeous young girlfriend come with those things, right?
Williams had or had easy access to all that. And then he had his demons, too. They won out eventually. He was 63, just finished with his latest rehab for substance abuse.
Suicide preys on older white men, even up here in Peter Pan's paradise. Actually, our risk is higher than most places. Our Mork fit a common profile for maybe the only time in his remarkable life.
Only, I'm not sure there is any profile for suicide. I suspect our lists and such as predictors are well-intentioned hokum, another example of our human need to see patterns in what's actually random or more deeply mysterious.
I don't believe you can predict my, your or Robin's terrible turn based on … anything.
No doubt there are some common triggers statistically. People with guns have a higher probability. So do those with alcohol or other drug problems. Genetics have a role. And something about our mountain communities raises suicide rates, too. There's an amplification atop our incidence of gun ownership, party culture and I think maybe more thrill seeking with its attendant impulsiveness.
Add to that our demographic trends projecting an aging population — namely, more middle-aged to older white males — in our future.
Basically, we're …. (OK, I just wrote a Robin Williams-esque one liner in this space that those of you who caught his performance at the Vilar in January 2013 know I can't print.)
Suffice to say that you and I, you ol' white dudes out there, have some susceptibilities we need to watch. I don't believe that anyone is truly immune, given life's vicissitudes, and aging ain't easy, maybe especially here.
Here's a mental health checklist that I picked up from Mind Springs Health, which serves the Western Slope and has West Springs Hospital, specializing in psychiatric care. See if like me, there are a few thing here to work on in your own life: Value yourself. Take care of your body. Surround yourself with good people. Give of yourself. Learn how to deal with stress. Quiet your mind. Set realistic goals. Break up monotony. Avoid alcohol and other drugs. Get help when you need it.
I know Robin gave of himself. Looks like he might have flunked much of the rest of the list.
Hmmm. He might have left us with a last lesson.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.