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Robin Williams: Carpe Diem

Actor/Comedian Dead At 63

Above: Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam."

On Monday there was a little less laughter in the world. Actor and comedian Robin Williams was pronounced dead at 12:02 p.m. on Aug. 11 and Tuesday, the Marin County Sheriff revealed that Williams had died of hanging and suicide is suspected.

The loss of anyone is sad, but the circumstances of his death and the nature of the man himself make his death all the more tragic. He was an exceptionally talented performer, had a blazingly quick wit, and in his dramatic roles especially, he revealed a deep sense of humanity and compassion. I first became aware of him as a standup comic and then as Mork in the TV show “Mork and Mindy.” But his particular style of comedy seemed too wild to be contained on television. Then he moved to film and proved a greater range with films such as “The World According to Garp” (I think this is the film that best captures him), “Moscow on the Hudson,” “Dead Poets Society” and “The Fisher King.”

A childlike sense of wonder informed all his work and he conveyed an impish innocence even when coupled with lewd language or adult content. And it’s that effusive enthusiasm that makes it so hard to come to terms with the fact that he was fighting depression and inner demons for so long, although looking back you can find the darkness in some of his comedy and his dramatic roles. But looking at Williams’ life from the outside, we saw a gifted actor, a comedian who could make us ache with laughter, and someone who seemed to have it all — fame, success and talent.

As a fan of Williams, I feel a great sense of loss so I can’t imagine how painful it is for those genuinely close to him. Once suicide was mentioned in connection with his death, I immediately got pitches in my inbox about experts wanting to suggest stories on the topic. His death reminds us that depression can plague anyone no matter how talented, famous or seemingly well off. People sometimes look at mental health issues such as depression as something a person should be able to control or as if simply pointing out how good someone has it should instantly fix the problem. But depression doesn’t come from a rational place and, like an illness, it will not go away just because you wish it to.

All you have to do is watch Williams, even in the most fleeting moment like an entrance on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," an appearance at the Oscars, a cameo in a film, and you could see his genius and the fact that nothing could ever tap into all that he had to offer. It was never that he seemed larger than life, but that his talent simply could not find a stage big enough and would forever be trying to burst the seams of whatever format he might be working in.

Carpe diem! (Oh, and watch out for the "Under Toad.")

Video

Dead Poets Society: Carpe Diem

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