We have lost yet another of Hollywood’s Gems. As covered in my recent blog following the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, so many of our exceptional artists are prone to substance abuse and depression.
As I wrote then, the true artists – such as a Juilliard trained actor/comedian like Williams – are highly sensitive and frequently tortured. Artists seemed to be connected to the universe. They see not analytically or with the brain, but with the soul or the heart (or whatever you prefer to call the non-analytical part of the human consciousness). That type of connection is a birthright, which allows these special people, even at a young age, to draw from this course and express what they see as artists — comedians, singers, actors, pianists, violinists, painters — with talents that are non-analytical aspects of consciousness.
They are connected to this consciousness in ways we can’t imagine. In so doing they feel, sense, and see in extremes that we don’t. They feel things that we can’t unless we undergo the experience firsthand. They’re able to have true empathy for any situation within their consciousness because they have that connection, that extreme characteristic. Such a trait is both a blessing and a curse.
As a result, many artists such as Robin Williams have behaviors that may seem strange to you or me because they don’t function predominantly at the superficial level. They may be able to function just fine that way, but it’s not their natural tendency. This burden often tortures these artists and history has shown that they frequently resort to substances in order to mollify that burden. Substance abuse leading to unfortunate overdoses, crippling depression and suicide can be a common result.
Robin Williams had admitted to a relapse with alcohol while filming in Alaska in 2003. In an interview with The Guardian, Williams stated, “I was in a small town where it’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going f—, maybe that will help. And it was the worst thing in the world.”
We all battle demons, and many of us either know someone who has struggled with depression and addiction, or have experienced it firsthand. However, most of those individuals arrive at such a low place due to a struggle for their own survival. Those like Williams become overwhelmed as a result of feeling the pain and horror affecting so many others on mother earth.
In recent interviews and conversations, Robin Williams expressed how atrocities occurring around the world had affected him on a personal level. For the majority of us, we watch the news and see reports of genocide, famine, and tyranny every day. But our common reaction is to take a side in terms of who is right or wrong, and then carry on with life. As these atrocities are not occurring in our backyard, and often take place halfway around the world, we remain detached from their effects. As Joseph Stalin said, “the death of one is a tragedy and the death of many is a statistic.”
But for artists such as Robin Williams, who experience feeling and empathy on a completely different level from the masses, the horrors of the world can profoundly affect their everyday lives. For someone so finely tuned-in to what is happening at a human level, how difficult must it be to experience the pain of, for instance, the ISIS slaughtering hundreds in Iraq merely for identifying as a Christian? To see countless mass shootings throughout the United States, and experience such a heightened state of ultra-sensitive emotions and feelings each time could easily be depressing and ultimately debilitating. It would be unbearable if we were to personalize these atrocities and put ourselves in the place of the victims with the sincerest of empathy. Imagine if a person close to you – a child, a parent, a sibling, a childhood friend – were tortured and murdered in the manner that has become so prevalent in areas like the Mideast. Imagine how you would feel, and then imagine if this were to repeat daily. How else could one function other than to become numb, often by way of substance abuse? Understanding and appreciating the complexities of such individuals makes it easier to empathize with why they eventually succumb to suicide (both accidental and intentional).
And whether it be Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tony Scott, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, or the myriad other artists who have struggled with and succumbed to demons such as depression and addiction, we should strive for empathy, as they did, at a time when such a monumental loss is experienced.
There is no overstating the depth of Robin Williams’s talent, nor the position he will forever hold within the zeitgeist of contemporary entertainment and comedy. His death is a tragedy, as his life was such a blessing to so many.