“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.” Robin Williams as Lance Clayton, World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life Sunday. According to some close to him, he had been struggling with depression since two divorces left him in difficult financial shape. He was 63.
The reaction to the bad news has been varied. The typical platitudes are making the rounds on social media platforms. ABC News printed the express wishes of the family to be left alone while they were reeling from the shock. On the same page ABC offered readers a live cam aerial view of Williams’s home.
FOX News’s Shepard Smith referred to Williams with the words “such a coward,” then offered a quick retraction and apology as he realized public grief turned to outrage would be aimed directly between his mascara-caked eyes. Different Strokes actor Todd Bridges tweeted how “selfish” Williams was, then later issued the same CYA apologies.
Other coverage of this tragedy has been somewhat more thoughtful, but most are comprised of homages to his brilliant work as a comic and an actor.
The circumstances that appear to have actually led to his suicide have been referenced in some places, but have otherwise been left unexamined. So far, no one in the mainstream media is looking at the life of Robin Williams and even trying to connect the dots on what led to the contemporary genius hanging dead at the end of belt noose.
In touching on the bare surface of the story, the media has managed in places to utter the words “divorce” and “financial problems.” Indeed, two terms that seem inextricably locked together for men.
Getting any deeper, however, remains typically out of the question for mainstream coverage. Journalists are noting that his relapse back into drinking helped lead to his second divorce. No one is questioning whether his second marriage helped lead to his relapse.
I won’t speculate that this is the case, though I think it is fair to wonder. I think a lot of questions could and should be asked about how we lost Robin Williams.
Most of them won’t be asked.
What we do know is on the public record. Robin Williams was a talented and wildly successful artist who accumulated a fortune over the span of his career. After being drained of tens of millions in two divorces and getting married a third time, he was faced with selling off his most valuable property and the prospect, at 63, of trying to make a comeback in standup, just to make ends meet.
All this so his children and ex-wives could live on the high end. As Williams himself put it:
“I have two [other] choices: go on the road doing stand-up, or do small, independent movies working almost for scale [minimum union pay]. The movies are good, but a lot of times they don’t even have distribution.”
“There are bills to pay. My life has downsized, in a good way. I’m selling the ranch up in Napa [, Calif.,]. I just can’t afford it anymore.”
When asked whether his two divorces took all of his money, he answered with blunt comedy:
“Well, not all. Lost enough. Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money,’ but they changed it to ‘alimony.’ It’s ripping your heart out through your wallet.”
“Are things good with my exes? Yes. But do I need that lifestyle? No.”
Whatever Williams needed, apparently he was not getting it. More recent information released by the Marin County Sheriff might shed some light on that.
In a press conference Lt. Keith Boyd said that Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider, went to bed at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday. According to Boyd, Williams ‘retired’ to another room in the house.
In the morning, Schneider left, reportedly thinking Williams was still asleep. Later his assistant, worried about him, came to the house and found his body. That was at 11:45 a.m.
It is certainly plausible that separate bedrooms were the routine in Williams’s home. It would not be the first time married couples, even happy ones, enjoyed the space and comfort of their own bedrooms.
It is not, however, outside the realm of reason to wonder why an assistant would be concerned enough about Robin Williams’s well-being to enter his home searching for him 75 minutes after his wife left the same home without any concern.
This is not to implicate any wrongdoing on the part of Williams’s wife, but it seems likely there could have been a high degree of separation between the two at the time of his suicide.
I have to wonder how Williams might have felt, already panicked after two financially devastating divorces, if there was a chance he was looking at a third. And I have to wonder why a man, known by everyone close to him to be in very rough emotional shape, might still be hanging there were it not for the concern of an employee. I’d like to know if Williams had the level of support available at home that could have prevented this.
All this is just wondering aloud, of course. It is not even speculation in the truest sense.
Still, what I see as I read in and between as many lines as possible in this tragic story is a man crushed beneath the weight of keeping others in luxury; a man who faced spending his final days scraping and bowing and begging, doing anything and everything so that those who once found him useful would allow him another day of tending to their “needs.”
Robin Williams was telling us this, in his own words. Pity no one was listening.
The media coverage of this, both what has already happened and that which will surely come to pass, paints a clear and conclusive picture of the problem behind the problem.
Not even being rich and famous and loved by millions will make anyone take an honest look at why you killed yourself when it makes them uncomfortable to do so … if you’re a man.
Helicopters will circle like vultures over your carcass, looking for a shot of the aggrieved; fodder to pull at heart strings and sell commercials. Talking heads will measure up your manhood before your body is in the ground, likely as not to find you lacking.
The last thing they will ever take an interest in is what really killed you. And very few will care enough to notice.
RIP, Mr. Williams.
Note: This article is also available in Italian.