Remembering Robin Williams

August 11th, 2014

Tonight I’m watching Wolf Blitzer and Dr. Drew Pinsky on CNN talking about the death of Robin Williams. The headline on the screen: “Breaking News: Robin Williams Dead of Suspected Suicide.”

I’m thinking back to February 28, 1978. I was five years old that year, and we almost always watched "Happy Days" on Tuesday nights in my house. We still had a black and white television in those days. (We wouldn’t get a color TV for three more years.) That evening’s episode of "Happy Days" was titled “My Favorite Orkan” and featured a 26 year-old comedian as an alien who visited Milwaukee and tried to take Richie Cunningham back to his home planet.

Robin’s appearance that night was a hit, and it led to the spin-off show "Mork and Mindy," which premiered later that year and ran for four seasons. I watched almost every week. It was a silly sitcom with mediocre writing, but Williams' portrayal of the main character was first-rate.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I enjoyed Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam," but the film role I remember most is English teacher John Keating in "Dead Poet’s Society," which released around the end of my junior year of high school in 1989. A drama film, its theme “Carpe diem, seize the day” and its handling of family conflict, academic pressure, and teen suicide had a significant impact on me at age 16.

I’ve enjoyed watching Robin Williams in a number of other roles since my high school days, but none are more memorable for me than Mork and Mr. Keating.

Robin Williams would battle depression and drug and alcohol addiction at various points throughout his career. The man who made the world laugh had some serious internal struggles. Many of us have difficulty understanding how someone so wealthy and famous could struggle with something like depression. But that’s how depression is. Rich or poor, celebrity or regular person, young or old, it can affect anyone. And sometimes the person we least suspect is the one who’s struggling with it the most.

I’ve only dealt with chronic depression once in my life — my junior year of college. With God’s help, I came out of it, but looking back, I wish I hadn’t been too proud to get help from a pastor, counselor, or therapist. I was blessed. I never struggled with suicidal thoughts. Compared to what some people face, my depression was mild. Suppose it had been more serious? How would I have handled it? I’m not completely sure.

Too often, we’re afraid to admit when we need help. Especially if we’re in a ministry position where we help others or where people look up to us in some way. Somehow we believe the lie that we have to have everything together ourselves or we can’t do anything for anyone else. (Or at least we have to make it look that way.) So we keep it all inside. But how many others would get the help they need if more of us had the courage to do it?

Over the next few days, we’ll no doubt hear all kinds of conversations about depression and suicide. It’s sad that it takes the untimely death of a celebrity to get us talking about these things, but these are conversations that need to be had, and it’s my prayer that this increased awareness will save some lives. I’m also praying that we’ll learn to take care of each other and look out for each other a little more.

Thanks for making us laugh, Robin. You’ll be missed.

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