What we learned from Robin Williams

It’s 9:38 at night. My grandson will get here at 7:30 tomorrow morning, and I’m 63 years old now, which means I should be going to sleep, not sitting here typing on this goddam keyboard.

But I just watched The Fisher King, with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. An old movie, made when there were still push button phones and cassette tapes, produced and directed by Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame. A wonderful movie. And knowing what we know now about what happened to Robin Williams later, I’m not going to be able to go to sleep until I write about it. Because Robin Williams’ story is psych-textbook human shadow.


What is the exact opposite, what has to be pushed way down and hidden most of the time, for someone to be as absolutely, eye-poppingly, out of control, over the top funny, as Robin Williams so often was?

Great sadness.

What is the exact opposite of the kind of personal bravery that never hesitates to make a fool of itself in public?

Great fear of actually being a fool.

Where does the brilliantly white light of spot-on performance come from? The light that Robin Williams could turn on in roles as different from one another as the earnest scholar in Dead Poets Society and the genie in Aladdin?

Great black depths of despair.

Robin Williams’ suicide is not just incredibly sad. It’s a warning. Another giant red flag. Heath Ledger. Philip Seymour Hoffman. World events and local politics.

“Go-oooo-d Mor-nnning, Vi-et-nam!”  Go-oooo-d mor-nnning all of us.

Being rich is not going to save us. Becoming famous is not going to save us. Even being as stupendously talented as Robin Williams was — which most of us obviously aren’t — is not going to save us.

The only thing that could possibly save the human race from destroying itself — and I have to say I’m not actually sure this is at all possible — would be starting to give honest, critical, out-in-the-open attention to what the hidden parts of us want and need. As much attention as we do to the exposed parts.

Chap 11 Full Page

The beasts we can’t look right in the eye are the beasts that will kill us.


“The task of confronting the brutal, destructive elements of the shadow has become the inescapable destiny of our species: if we fail, we cannot hope to survive.” –Anthony Stevens, analytical psychologist