Clippings: Robin Williams an enigma; aren’t we all?
Other than feelings of shock and sadness for his family, one of my first reactions to Robin Williams’ suicide was to wonder how well we really know anybody, never mind those who live in the public eye.
For sure, Williams always seemed more comfortable in his characters’ skins rather than his own. In a couple of old talk show appearances I watched on YouTube, Williams, as always, played a half-dozen roles a minute. Only briefly, when forced to shill his latest projects, would he tone down and speak a couple of sentences in a strained indoor voice before seizing his first chance to veer back into his shtick. Or, more accurately, shticks, in several different personas.
Those who paid tribute to Williams all spoke of his tremendous charitable instincts. One said he was “an easy get” for a benefit. Meanwhile, another friend of 30 years said he was not sure he ever saw the real Robin. Maybe those benefits just offered him more chances to get into character, to play more comfortable roles.
Even one of the best pieces I read, about Williams’ deep friendship with actor Christopher Reeve, hinged on how Williams cheered up Reeve before a crucial operation after the accident that left Reeve paralyzed. Williams, then playing a film role as a doctor, showed up in and stayed in that character. He made Reeve smile and gave him hope before a procedure with only a 50-50 chance of success.
The old cliché about the sad clown also kept cropping up as people spoke or wrote about Williams, as did his battles with drugs and alcohol and with depression and, some said, schizophrenia.
Then the news came out he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, no doubt a possible trigger. Yet most Parkinson’s patients choose life, especially, I’m guessing, those, like Williams, with apparently supportive and devoted families.
Ultimately, we can be thankful for what Williams gave us and mourn his decision, but will we ever really know what motivated this complex, supremely talented man to take his life?
And that thought made me wonder about that larger question: How much do we really know others, and not just actors, who might be the hardest to decipher.
For example, my wife and I watched Vin Diesel appear on “The Tonight Show” recently, and he seemed charming. Diesel spoke a line from his most recent movie — “I am Groot” — in French, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin, all with passable accents, and talked lovingly about his children.
My wife said he seemed like a decent guy. I didn’t disagree, but a small part of me thought, he’s an actor, he could easily play that role and fool us.
And, of course, a far wiser and better writer than I came up with this: “All the world’s a stage,
“And all the men and women merely players.”
Another example involving my wife: Years ago, she looked at me after I hung up after a phone call and told me I talked to men and women differently. Of course, I said, but the comment did get me thinking, and since then I have tried to be more gender-neutral.
The point, though, is we all play different roles in different situations, and we do have public faces we present to the world.
For sure, actions can tell us a lot, as did Robin Williams’ apparently many acts of goodwill and charity. And we really can understand plenty about people by seeing how they deal with others, especially if they treat everybody equally regardless of perceived status or potential self-interest.
But there will always be a core of mystery to each of us.
And really that’s not such a bad thing. As my wife would also tell you, I do love mysteries.
I just wish some of them were not so sad.
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