Robin Williams is not a hero.
No, this is not blasphemy or me saying that the national discussion on mental illness that his death provoked isn’t overdue and the focus on depression isn’t warranted. It is, and has been for a long time.
While I can’t and won’t try to pretend that I understand or could possibly comment on the inner turmoil that one goes through which results in their decision that death is the only option, I can say that suicide is rarely heroic.
Robin Williams was an alcoholic and drug user. In the ’80s he suggested that he, himself, was keeping the Columbian drug cartels in business. After numerous stints in rehab, he finally kicked the habit and was open and honest about his struggle for years. To me, talking about the problem, trying to educate the public about it, even through jokes and trying to overcome it is heroic. The battle that addicts go through to try and live a normal life after giving up their vice is extremely difficult, and those that fight every day should be commended for their fight.
But we live in a strange cultish world where entertainers are the most important people of society. In a world where hundreds of thousands of people are currently the victims of genocide, where war has covered over half the globe, where persecution, rape and starvation is supreme, the lead story in every newscast was about a comic, who hasn’t been relevant in over 20 years, who killed himself.
Then, social media erupted. Article after article of how great a man and comedian he was. Show clips, memes, public mourning of a man who decided to end it all and murdered himself. Just a side note, I haven’t seen any clips, memes or articles or mourning about the death by stroke, on the same day, of Lauren Bacall.
In the words of Williams himself, “In America they really do mythologise people when they die.”
For days, I’ve been bombarded with messages saying that Williams is “happy” and “free” and “at peace” and “looking down and smiling”, all great sentiments. But, what message is society sending other people who are contemplating suicide? How can we possibly convince others to stay with us, to not follow in the footsteps of Robin Williams after depicting his choice so glowingly?
Robin Williams is no hero and suicide is not a heroic act. With suicide you eliminate yourself and shackle your family and loved ones in an endless cycle of sorrow, guilt and grief. For the rest of their lives, his wife, his children will be thinking about their final encounters with him, could they have said something, seen something, done something, changed something. For the rest of their lives they will beat themselves up, blame themselves and berate themselves for allowing this to happen, even though they had no choice and weren’t asked an opinion in the matter.
I believe in an old chassidic teaching that in every corner of darkness there is a ray of light. The ray in this case is the focus on depression and mental illness. if somehow his death pushes forward the discussion on depression and mental illness, then at least him removing himself from this earth unintentionally served a greater cause.
Howie Silbiger is the host of The Howie Silbiger Show – Heard every Sunday 6-9pm on 1650AM in Montreal or online at www.radio-shalom.ca