In this editorial, my wife completely disagrees with me. She thinks that I am being insensitive.
I will let the reader decide.
I am merely stating what happened from my own personal perspective.
In the past eight years my wife Deb and I have been collaborating on True Review, we’ve generally agreed about most things. This editorial, however, has caused much consternation. I don’t really know why. But, as perspective and balance, I will allow Deb a rebuttal. See her comments after the editorial.
I wrote this in mid-August. I just wanted to vent.
As I write this in mid-August, the cold wind is blowing down the corridor, shutting all the doors.
I’m not sure what author wrote that (Harlan Ellison comes to mind) but in the midst of a month of warmth, we recorded 55 degrees last night (Aug. 13), well below normal temperatures in my town.
We fill the chill when such things happen.
My reaction to the suicide of Robin Williams on Monday this week has been like most of my reactions to suicide over the years. Back in 1993, I lost a close friend, my cousin by marriage to my first wife, Mel Witmer Jr. (we called him “Scooter”) to a suicide. I wrote about that in True Review #23, October 1994. There was no note. Apparently his suicide, as I learned later, was because of a woman who was dating him that dumped him.
My next reaction comes by way of first trying to understand why Robin Williams, obviously plagued by severe depression and the demons that were trying to do him in, couldn’t get the help he needed from those around him. His comedic genius, his ability to literally twist reality all around us, to pull the greatest and funniest moments literally from nowhere - and this guy didn’t have the power to “heal himself”?
This brilliant artist was left to suffer so much, so needlessly, even in light of a recent medical diagnosis?
I loved Williams the most as the reckless radio announcer in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” I was laughing so crazy my chest really hurt. Or his more serious side as the English instructor in “Dead Poet’s Society.” Carpe diem, forever. You thought about that movie for weeks afterward. Or the movie with Beau Bridges, as the wayward tramp in Central Park; or one of my son’s favorites, “Mrs. Doubtfire.” On and on, “Goodwill Hunting,” etc. etc.
Unlike Williams, some people don’t have those demons. There is one gentleman I know, my father, who just literally loved life and was curious about it all the time. As I wrote my brother Robert in an e-mail shortly after receiving the news about Williams, I noted that our own father, Andrew L. Andrews, would have lived to 550 if he physically could have. No intention of leaving the world unless something violently escorted him. Which happened - not so much as violent as literally an automobile falling apart, piston by piston, crankshaft by crankshaft, until he succumbed to kidney failure, worn out and full of years, at 85 years old. If the DNA would have been designed better, this could have been 115 or 125 or 575, for all we know.
Dad just loved life totally and completely and everything about it. I think he was curious to see what was going to happen next. As I noted, he would have stuck around for a very long time. As he told me after we experienced the excruciating death of his wife, our mother, he would fight death all the way down. And he did, he really did.
But Williams - I think suicide is extremely selfish and I have no respect for those who do it.
Some people think this is a feeling of selfishness on my own part. Andrew, how could you be so cold and unfeeling? Obviously Robin was in a lot of terrible pain. I am not cold and unfeeling. I just think there are more important things than “me.” Those you may be leaving behind are all your love, all of your perspective, all of your energy, all that matters.
Even through the pain, you have to project these basic tenants:
1). Unlike Lauren Bacall, who passed away the same week, almost to the same day as Williams, you are going to remember her beauty, her sensuality, her acting talent, as she leaves us into the mists of time. In contrast, all you will remember about Williams is he killed himself. All you have is your legacy, really. That’s going to be it, sadly. That’s all you remember about him.
2). An extremely selfish act. He cannot project the horrible, grief-stricken, painful sadness he will leave behind for others who loved him very dearly. Here was a Talent who was to improv comedy as Curly was to the “Three Stooges.” He was its all, its everything.
3). Picking up the pieces. You have to care more about those you will leave behind, listless, unkempt, unable to understand, not only all your fans, and Williams had far too many, but for your family who NEEDS you.
Williams should have went laughing into that Good Night at like 115, still cracking jokes, until his health took him. And he would have that glorious legacy of the best improv, best stand-up comedian EVER. No one was going to beat him! He wrote the book! The things he did inspired thousands of comedians across the globe.
Williams thoroughly erased all the good things he did for people up to this point because of the selfish, inconsiderate, stupid act.
You start feeling a little spooked about the mental health of these guys in light of Williams and the suicide. The same week, according to an e-mail I received, that Williams committed suicide was the birthday of Steve Martin, another King of Comedy. Steve, are you feeling all right? I hope so!
There is probably NOTHING a fan wouldn’t do to have helped Williams. Williams could have leaned on at least the best in the business. They would have propped him up, to keep him here, until 200 years old, when the great-grandkids couldn’t take one more smarmy joke from him. A better way to go, at 120 years old, still cracking them up.
Williams is gone. His talent is irreplaceable. He had a life-affirming impact on everybody’s lives and a gentleman and a scholar who will be horribly missed.
And the sadness of this loss is all we have left of him.
My husband Andy and I have our disagreements but rarely in a public forum. Well, they say there is a first time for everything.
True Review is my husband's brainchild. Although I've participated for the past eight years, I've always considered myself second in command. As I explained to him, I respect his right to his opinion, but in this case, I think he is off base, at the least. I begged him to change the editorial, to no avail. The compromise was this rebuttal, as I believed he was being very insensitive and uninformed.
Why was this such a thorn in my side he wondered? Well, four reasons. One, I felt it was insensitive, not only to the remaining family members of Mr. Witmer and Mr. Williams but to anyone who has suffered with depression (and their families). Two, I felt Andrew was very uninformed about depression. Years ago as a family member struggled with depression, I kept giving the old "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" rant. How stupid I was? Third, I told him it would make him appear very insensitive and uninformed. And finally, I would never want anyone to think this was a jointly-held opinion.
Hey, maybe I'm wrong - but I don't think so.
What purpose does it serve to mention his relative by name? To drag Mr. Witmer's name and family through the mud again and open an old wound? Perhaps they will never see the piece but still, could the objective of "a better story" not be accomplished by simply saying "a family member?" I'm all for facts but. . .
My husband is correct that I weigh my words very carefully. He says I make a better PR person than a writer or journalist. He's right. I'm not a professionally trained journalist. I despised English class and I'm a nightmare with punctuation, putting commas in places that don't even exist, and that's just for starters. But I'd rather go to my grave caring about other's feelings than making a bigger splash, or more money, or whatever. So sue me.
The right to free speech and freedom of the press comes with obligations and responsibilities. Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the terrorist attacks in France. I don't recall his exact words but it was something like you need to take responsibility for your words and maybe we should not push the envelope all the time and perhaps a person's religion, regardless of what it is, should be respected. It was not a popular statement but count me among his supporters. Shortly after the attacks, I thought about writing a piece for our local paper. My column would have been titled, "The High Price of Stupid." Was it worth the loss of life to put that image on the cover? What did they hope to achieve? What would change? Did it make them feel good or powerful? While they would probably never admit it publicly, I bet the grieving family members and those killed wouldn't mind a chance for a do-over.
I have had family members who have struggled with depression and prior to my creative years, I worked in the health care industry, specifically in psychiatry, so I am familiar with depression issues. No one who is sane kills themselves. It's not possible. At the point where you do, you are so far over the edge, you can't know what you are doing, and you are certainly not thinking about those you are leaving behind or what their reaction will be. To say that the person, in this case Robin Williams, could have done something different or gotten better care, or had better support from his family members, is insanity at its most defined. Robin probably had the best medical care possible and his family thought they were doing everything they could, but comedians derive their spirit from pain. I believe it was Mark Twain who said that humor succeeds not because it is rooted in happiness, but in sorrow. Robin was obviously as adept at mesmerizing his audiences as he was hiding his pain from those closest to him. Sadly, that's often the common factor of those who take their life.
So Andrew, I just wanted to vent-and I hope the commas are in the right places.
My deepest sympathies to the Williams family.
Rest in peace, Robin.