Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tears of a Class Clown

"I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room cry
the tears of a clown."

I don't generally like to start blog posts or columns with quotes or song lyrics. I have often looked at that sort of thing as a cheap, hackneyed stunt.

But the first thing I thought of upon hearing the news of Robin Williams' death by suicide was the iconic song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Tears of a Clown."

So I thought it would be appropriate to lead this post with a portion of Smokey's lyrics, because how can you read them and not think of Williams and the many comedians before him who made their living making us laugh while at the same time battling inner demons?

Williams, 63, apparently hanged himself at his California home, sometime between 10:30 p.m. Sunday night and 10:30 a.m. Monday morning.

His manager said Williams was battling "severe depression" lately.

It is fascinating to me, how many tormented "funny men" have graced the stages of comedy clubs, Broadway houses and television specials practically from the time the first brave soul decided to stand in front of a crowd and crack jokes.

There must be some corollary between the thrill of getting laughs on stage and being shy, lacking of self-esteem and, frankly, sad.

Williams, of course, was more than a comedian. He started out playing an alien on a TV sitcom and turned out to be a whale of a dramatic actor who had a knack for playing lovable, vulnerable characters with a big heart.

He was also likely the most manic guest in TV talk show history.

A Williams appearance on Carson or Leno should have required the viewer to be asked to buckle up and put the tray in the upright position.

It was a six-minute exercise in non-stop tidbits, impersonations and story telling, and Williams never sat still during any of it. In fact, he usually wasn't sitting at all.

He made me nervous, truth be told, as a talk show guest but the crowd (and the host) always ate up Williams' shtick.

Williams, again like so many fellow comedians, got lost in substance abuse, which likely didn't do his depression symptoms any good.

He returned to TV full-time last fall in "The Crazy Ones," playing a quirky ad agency man who works with his daughter. The series was Williams' first foray on the small screen as a lead character since his days on "Mork and Mindy" from 1978-82.

But the new series couldn't come close to shaking Williams out of the deep and irreversible funk of depression that would ultimately prompt him to take his own life.



I suspect that comedians and actors who cause moviegoers and viewers to feel a wide range of emotions are often feeling wide ranges of emotions themselves. Their roller coaster sometimes makes one too many bumps and they fly out of the car.

Williams may have been lonely but he wasn't alone. He was a family man---a husband and a father three times over. His friends and colleagues described him---especially in the wake of his death---as kind, compassionate and with a huge heart.

So here we are---the man who dedicated himself to lifting the spirits of others, unable to lift his own.

When someone takes their own life, those who don't know the pain figure that there must have been a viable alternative.

But here's the punch line---the suicide victim instead thinks that the viable alternative that we espouse is a death sentence of sorts, anyway. So why keep going?

Billy Crystal, longtime friend and co-host of "Comic Relief" with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg for 20 years, had maybe the most appropriate tweet after learning of the news.

"No words."

Fitting, because Robin Williams didn't need too many to make us laugh or cry.

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