For Robin Williams: On Depression

I fear this memorial post will end up being more about me and less about the person I am remembering. I suppose it’s the same with all eulogies: they are for the living. Regardless, I can’t seem to get to work this morning without putting this out.

I took Robin Williams for granted. I benefitted from his bravery and his genius as though they would always be there, always be available for my consumption. Now that he is gone, I feel like a child who has walked for forty days through the desert, only to find that the drinking fountain outside my elementary school has dried up.

In the months and years to come, we’ll have his films to remember him by, and their power will not fade. But, in the meantime, we mourn the death of Robin Williams, a singular light of our time.

Human beings try to make sense of death. We try to make it mean something–probably to combat our own fear of mortality. When someone so famous dies, it hits us even harder, because we imagine celebrities are immortal. We create them as something more than human–and when they die, they quite rudely shatter that illusion and leave us staring at our own broken reflections.

I’m going to try to make sense of Robin Williams’s death by using it as a springboard to talk about depression. Before I continue, I want to point out that many of the ideas in this post are inspired by or taken directly from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you are a creative person and you are reading this post, please buy this book immediately. It could save your career, or maybe your life.

“You think resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

63 years.

Robin Williams fought depression for 63 years. No, he didn’t just fight it–he beat it down and laughed in its face, giving us some of the funniest and most powerful performances in the history of film: Dead Poets Society. Good Will Hunting. Good Morning, Vietnam.

He had won. At least, that’s how it looked from the outside. But that’s not how depression works. Depression doesn’t slink away at the sound of applause. It doesn’t evaporate when you finally buy your million dollar house. You can’t banish it by wielding your Oscar as a talisman.

In the end, depression was waiting in the wings for Mr. Williams. And it took him.

Depression doesn’t care how successful you are. It is not deterred by the zeros in your bank account. It takes no account of how much you’ve elevated the lives of other human beings. It isn’t personal and it has no conscience. It is not a flaw, or a weakness, or god forbid a CHOICE–it is a disease, and it kills, sure as cancer. And when it doesn’t kill, it disfigures the lives of the sufferers and the sufferers’ families alike.

If there is anything we can learn from the senseless snuffing of this brilliant light, it is that depression is serious as a heart attack. We can prevent more deaths. We can reach out to our friends and family members who are suffering. We can erase the stigma of depression and mental illness.

If you have a friend, a loved one, a coworker who is dealing with depression, reach out. Tell them you love them. Stay in communication. No one has to be alone. Suicide Hotline Resources

Crisis Hotline Wiki


Jeff Garvin

Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and THE LIGHTNESS OF HANDS. Cohost of THE HERO'S JOURNEY podcast. Rock musician, D&D geek, aspiring revolutionary.

Comments (6)

  • Thank-you. You see the struggle. It is as real as cancer or heart disease. Some days it is fightable, some days it kicks right square in the face. Thank-you.

  • Yesterday, my breath was taken away when I heard the news of Robin Williams death and not since John Candy have I cried for the loss of someone I didn’t really know. He was a childhood favorite like Bill Murray and Steve Martin and I truly loved and admired the person he was on and off screen.
    On Friday, my family watched a Night At the Museum – Battle At the Smithsonian, a favorite in our house, and I told the kids how he was my favorite actor. I smiled at the performance thinking I’m so glad we have Mr. Williams to entertain us. I understand his struggle all to well and am heartbroken by his death.

  • Reading your post was refreshing. There have been several dozens of posts going up today about depression – most saying depressed people need to pray and have faith and they’ll be ok. It was good to see someone who understands that most depressions don’t work that way…. or, at least, they don’t work that way any more than cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Thank you for recognizing the seriousness of depression – that is truly is a disease… and often an incurable one.

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