By Jeannette Oh
On August 11, exactly one year ago, the news that actor and comedian Robin Williams had died by committing suicide was regrettably released into the world. This news was even more regrettably received by the millions of fans, colleagues, and loved ones throughout the glove who believed that this man had been much more than just an actor and comedian, that he had been an incredible teacher (just as he had been in Dead Poets Society), a healer or therapist (spreading his warmth and wisdom as in films such as Patch Adams and Good Will Hunting), a one-of-a-kind friend (Aladdin, anyone?), and even the free and kindred childlike spirit bursting from the seams of a grown man’s body (throwback to Hook). It had been a shocking and devastating blow to discover that a man that had meant so much in countless numbers of ways would no longer be able to share his ability to bring light and laughter to so many people. It was even more devastating that the man who had possessed such a remarkable gift had ultimately ended his own life due to the fact that he struggled with an illness that prevented himself from bringing the same joy and laughter into his own life.
I remember learning about Robin Williams’ death by, what else, turning on the TV and watching it on a news channel. The report was somber yet straightforward. At 12:02 pm, Robin Williams was declared dead by suicide at his home in Tiburon, California. However, the report was no more than a hum of information to my semi-discerning ears. Rather than thinking about the statistical analysis being spewed forth at the current time, I was immediately sent back to the early days of my childhood in which I spent watching my favourite movies. Singing to the tunes of Aladdin, curled beneath my blanket whilst listening to the beating call of Jumanji, or just plain laughing myself silly at Mrs. Doubtfire had left me knowing Robin Williams’ name before I even knew how to spell my own. Despite being at such a young age, I was aware that this man behind the television screen could reach people instantaneously with his talent, as well as touch people with the sound of his voice (or voices) and the twinkle in his eyes. It was not until I had grown older that I was able to appreciate his more mature films, and understand the depth of his capabilities. In one of my all-time favorite films, Good Will Hunting, I was introduced to the absolute profundity of Williams’ work and the genuine sincerity beneath all of his comical jokes. I realized that there was not only a bounteous, benevolent soul within this man, but also a tortured one.
Robin Williams taught me many things in his lifetime, but one of the most significant lessons in my life thus far was the one he taught me through his death. Despite the exuberant joy he brought millions of people on a daily basis, Robin Williams had suffered from depression. Prior to this knowledge, I had an admittedly distant perspective of what depression actually was, what it was caused by, and both the personal and societal impact it created. It was not until Robin Williams’ death that I was appropriately introduced to the damage it created for the person diagnosed and the knowledge that it was a damage not only caused biologically but also socially through the negative stigma seeking treatment for a mental illness brings about. Familiarizing myself with the severity of Williams’ situation opened me up to the widespread and incredibly common toll depression has on human beings and helped me realize the fact that the negative, oppressive attention depression brought about to such a great population was not acceptable. Although Robin Williams’ death was not one that anybody would have liked to have seen, it has made a pivotal contribution to the movement of mental health, reminding us all that mental illnesses should never be a laughing matter.
In all, Robin Williams will leave a legacy behind in a multitude of ways: in his life, in his death and in his work. I think that it’s interesting to note that some of Robin Williams’ best and most beloved roles, such as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting or the lovable genie in Aladdin, were not those in which he played the leading character but, rather, the supporting role. This was due to Williams’ unrelenting compassion and heart to bring out the best in others that ultimately shone through. His love and philanthropic care may have been one done in private, but it was a type of care that never went unnoticed, as it can be witnessed in every crinkly eyed smile or (mostly likely ad-libbed) word of wisdom he made on screen. Therefore, I would like to end this article with one of Robin Williams’ most resonant, most reflective pieces of advice from his film Dead Poet’s Society, which truly conveys the lasting inspiration to live a life of laughter and service to others that he provided on a daily basis.
“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”