I have never met him, but he lived a large portion of his life near where I grew up in Northern California, and it was not uncommon to see him around town.
Williams went to the same high school that my nieces currently attend, and could often be spotted in the crowd of fans at local pro baseball or basketball games. He was the friend of friends. Perhaps this is why I find my thoughts dwelling on the sad news.
Or perhaps it’s because I rate him as one of the best actor/comedians who ever lived. Or perhaps it’s because only yesterday I watched his latest movie, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn in which Williams, in yet another departure from his usual comedic roles, delivers a stunning performance. In an apparent “art imitates life” moment, his character battles depression and even attempts suicide.
When I heard the news this morning (August 12), in my pre-coffee fog my mind took a few beats to separate the fiction from reality.
Perhaps it is all three.
No it can’t be true. Williams, it seems, was a classic clown crying on the inside. Someone who sacrificed self to bring laughter to others while on the inside, hidden behind the smiles and slapstick, he was dealing with his own private demons.
It’s a sad reality that many of those whose job it is to make us laugh struggle silently with (mental illness or personality disorders). Perhaps this is what gives them their unique perspective on life which most of us miss.
Scores of comedians have spoken openly about difficult childhoods and how they turn to comedy to help deal with trauma in their lives. Richard Pryor, Spaulding Grey, and one of my favorites, Adam Corolla, uses his parents lack of parenting skills as a central piece to his comedy. Some deal with it by becoming alcoholics, some by becoming comedians, some both. Ironic considering what a pivotal role comedians play in the psychological health of a society.
I will always remember Williams this way: My favorite bit of trivia about him. When he auditioned for the role of an alien for Garry Marshals sitcom Happy Days, he sat on his head during the entire interview, and Mork from Ork was born.
An amazing talent, he will be deeply missed.
Joe Blasy is a dive instructor for Sea Bees Diving (sea-bees.com). His monthly column, Joe Diver, will highlight issues regarding the marine environment that surrounds southern Thailand.