Robin Williams and the relentless grip of depression

Robin_WilliamsRobin Williams died four days ago, and tributes to his comic genius and his generosity continue to feature prominently in the news, competing with the atrocities in Gaza, Ukraine and now Ferguson. The  New York Times reports that the announcement of his death drew a greater number of readers than any other news event this week.

We knew Robin Williams. He was a lot closer to us than the Yazidis stranded on a faraway mountaintop or the tanks in Ukraine. Apparently he resonated with NYT readers even more than the crisis spurred by the murder of an unarmed teenager by militarized local police in Ferguson, Mo.

The outpouring of grief has predictably led to the examination of a familiar topos — the pain behind the comedian’s jokes — but also to discussions of debilitating depression. People are admitting they can relate to Williams’ suicide because they understand the hopelessness of chronic depression.

I’m finding it difficult to stop thinking about Robin Williams and the contrast between his private hell and his public persona, the rapid-fire jokes and spot-on impressions and accents. We’ve lost an immensely talented performer, a real mensch. The loss is especially poignant because the demons he wrestled with are only too familiar.

Photo “Robin Williams” by Photographer’s Mate Airman Milosz Reterski – Navy NewsStand.

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