I was saddened like most of the world, when I heard of Robin Williams's death. I was sad not only because he was gone, and I would never be delighted anew by his acting or his comedy or even his smile, but also because of the way he died. To take one’s own life is such an admission of hopelessness. It was hard to take.
Since I write and speak a lot about films, I often think about the various participants in the filmmaking process, and beyond film to the entertainment business in general. It always bothers me when someone from that industry dies. Like their lives, their deaths are so public. They sought fame by being in the film business; I get that, but the point is that their particular job meant that they became a part of our lives, too.
They came into our living rooms and made us laugh or made us weep or entertained us in another of the thousand ways they were so skilled to do, but we chose to see and hear what they did. We are the ones who let them into our lives, often paying money to get them there. And now they are gone.
The week Robin Williams died, Lauren Bacall died, too. That week, Robin Williams was on the cover of every entertainment magazine in the country, and Lauren Bacall wasn’t on any of them. He was even on TIME magazine’s vaunted cover and probably a lot of other covers I didn’t see. Why Williams and not Bacall?
The answer is not obvious. Of course she died a “natural” death, while he died with years left, and that is a tragedy we all mourn more fully for one who still “has something to contribute.” But Williams wasn’t that young; other, much younger, entertainers who have died by their own hand have not been mourned as widely.
While Bacall was a great actress and appeared in many great films, her time with us was largely past, but so was his. He had not been the lead in a successful movie in years, and who knows when he was last on a late night TV show. It was rumored that he was doing another stint as Teddy Roosevelt in the next Night at the Museum sequel because he needed the money.
I think the answer is that he was a comedian, perhaps the best that ever lived, and he made us laugh. Lauren Bacall enthralled us, but everyone knows that happiness is what we live for, and Robin Williams could make us happy. No matter the circumstances, no matter how sad we were, no matter how bored, no matter how despondent, we only had to put on Mrs. Doubtfire or catch a glimpse of an old Mork and Mindy episode, and we were howling in minutes. Yeah, Robin Williams could make us laugh, and nothing could be more important than that, could it?
We so worship feeling good, we simply don’t know how to handle it, when one who brings so much laughter departs this life the way Robin Williams did.