John Ostrander: In Passing

This last week saw the passing of two luminaries in entertainment – Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams. Ms. Bacall died just short of 90 and had a rich and full life. Robin Williams died at 63, evidently a suicide.

We are told Mr. Williams was battling severe depression and was in the early stages of Parkinson’s.

My first reaction was shock and then denial. It couldn’t be true because I didn’t want it to be true. And then came the questions – how? Why? The how was soon told but the why may never be known. Robin Williams was talented, successful, had family that loved him. Why would he kill himself?

I never met Robin Williams but, like many others, I thought I knew him. That happens with many artists and for many people; we know them from their work. Since the best artists put a lot themselves into their work, we do know something about them but far from all. The artist reveals and conceals at the same time.

There was a very dark side to Robin Williams and ultimately it consumed him. Was it there to be seen? You look at some pictures of him now and think maybe you see it. Will I ever watch his comedy again or his movie roles and not spot it or at least think I do?

His mind was incredible to experience. The speed of his invention was dazzling and I don’t know of anyone who made me laugh as hard or as often. He was also an actor of great depth; he could do a straight part with no clowning around.

There have been many tributes in the media for Robin but, of course, there have also been the assholes. Rush Limbaugh said “He had it all but he had nothing. Made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture or a certain image that the left has. Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth.” Limbaugh later said he was misquoted and misrepresented by the general media. That trick never works, especially when we have what he said on tape and in print. I wonder what it feels like to have bile running through your veins instead of blood.

And then there are the so-called Christians (some, not all) who claim that Williams was a coward and that he is now in hell because suicide is an “unredeemable sin” since the person can’t ask forgiveness. I’m an agnostic in general and an atheist in particular. I don’t believe in any religion’s version of a deity.

But I was raised Roman Catholic and I was taught never to presume a suicide went to hell. You couldn’t know if, at the last moment, the person killing themselves repented. To think, to say otherwise was a Sin itself, a sin of Presumption. These assholes making their pronouncements should make sure about their own souls before judging anybody else’s. Assuming that souls exist. I like to think they do but, as with everything else spiritual, I’m not sure.

Most people, however, are sorry that he is gone. Perhaps his humor wasn’t to everyone’s taste but everyone can appreciate his loss. Tragedy is defined as the ruin of someone, usually sympathetic, who suffers from a fatal flaw. In that sense, Robin Williams’ death certainly is a tragedy.

I doubt we’ll ever see his like again.