Two weeks have passed now since Robin Williams left us and with an 11hr flight ahead of me I finally feel like I’ve got the time necessary to write a blog post to do him justice.
I was heartbroken when I heard of Robins passing, I hoped that it was just a horrible hoax but as the news appeared on more and more reputable news outlets it sunk in.
Robin Williams was dead.
My first thought when I heard the news was one of utter confusion and surprise, how could a man responsible for brining so much happiness and love to the world have had so much darkness in his life that he chose to end it. I’ll address this side of the story later and I do believe it’s important to address and not ignore but first I’d like to talk a little about what Robin meant to me. Much has come to light since Robins death about his seemingly never ending generosity and compassion, his unrelenting drive to brighten the lives of everyone he met so you all know that already. What I’d like to share is just how Robin had a profound impact on my life, with never even meeting me.
I distinctly remember as a child running around my house talking to myself in a myriad of different characters, sometimes they’d just be talking, sometimes they’d be talking to each other and sometimes they’d just be in my head. When I first saw Aladdin and Robin Williams performance as the Genie I felt an immediate kinship. Hearing the speed with which he jumped from character to character and the depth each character had (even if we only saw it for a few seconds) was like hearing someone else perform the voices in my head. I immediately felt that there was another person on the planet who’s brain worked like mine and of course a person who made me laugh and laugh until I was in tears.
That performance was the genesis of my passion for voiceover, I’d watched the Simpsons of course and thoroughly enjoyed that but Robin’s performance as the Genie spoke to me and showed what may be possible with the crazy voices in my head. It was the start of my life long obsession with creating crazy characters in as many different voices as I could muster. Of course Robin was famed for the plethora of different accents he used, again being the inspiration for me to learn and perfect as many accents as I could.
I think this is why his death hit me so hard, Robin was like my father figure in the world of work. Without him here I feel like the light I was following through the mist of life has been extinguished and now I’m alone to try and follow the path without a lead. It would be easy to be daunted by that prospect and to flounder but Robin blazed such a trail that even without his light at the front the flames are left behind for others to follow. I now feel an even greater sense of responsibility to achieve my dreams in honour of the path he set me upon.
Now we turn to the more difficult topic, mental health but should it be a difficult topic? It is, but why is it? I suspect it’s because no-one ever talks about it despite the fact that at some point in nearly all of our lives we’ve experienced a mental health issue be it big or small. I was having great difficulty deciding how much of life to share in this blog post but in the end I’ve decided to be as open and honest as I can to perhaps just slightly, in my own way nudge the conversation about mental health in the right direction. It’s also important to be honest because it helps explain why Robin was a key figure in my life…
When I was at school during my teenage years I was bullied relentlessly, I was beaten up, had my hair set on fire and was chased on nights out by the same kids that tortured me during the day and around the age of 14 I was suicidal and I mean that in truest sense of the word. What is difficult for people who haven’t experienced depression to understand is that it’s not simply “being blue”, there is no “snapping out of it”. The best way I can describe it is like living under a thick cloud, everything feels “less”, sound is muffled, vision is blurred and the cloud surrounds you 24/7 in every direction you look. Logic does not exist inside this cloud, reason does not exist inside this cloud, all that exists is an overriding sense of despair and loneliness that penetrates you right down to your bones…. it is not “being sad”.
It was during this time that “little” things like Robins performance in Aladdin got me through, they provide a powerful piercing light that could penetrate the cloud and warm my heart. That is why I felt so close to Robin, his performances and his comedy had been with me during my darkest days and had provided some much needed relief.
I believe there is a reason though that depression seems to haunt those of us who may class ourselves as “creatives” and it’s a heightened sensitivity to emotion. I don’t see how it’s possible for a person to fully commit themselves to becoming another character without being completely and totally in tune with their emotional states and how to manipulate them, this leaves them raw, exposed, perhaps often jumping into a character to shield themselves. For someone like Robin I think it’s important to remember before we criticise his decision to take his own life that all of the characters we saw on the outside resided inside his mind and undoubtedly there were darker characters in there that we never saw.
Creative people can have the most persuasive of demons.
So to Robin I say thank you, thank you for leaving me a path to follow, thank you for sharing your gift with the world. You may not have been able to overcome the fight with your own demons but I shall be eternally grateful to you for helping me win the fight with mine.