Suicide is not a joke

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Ryan Donlin

Tragically, near the end of the summer, famous comedian and overall harbinger of joy Robin Williams passed away with what has since been ruled as a suicide.

My initial thoughts were confused and distraught over the fact that such a caring and seemingly full of life human being could be so depressed that he would cut his remarkably successful life short. I instantly thought of the movies he’s been in and the stand up shows and improvisational skits that had me guffawing in laughter unlike any other person.

As more details surfaced of the story, it began to look remarkably similar to another acting giant who passed away a few months earlier, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both, it seems, were struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, while retaining their relatively normal lives on the surface. About a month before his death, Williams had checked into rehab for an alcohol addiction. Always remarkably candid about his life, Williams often talked about his problems, but did so in such a humorous and endearing way that many people, including myself, did not take them very seriously.

Although incredibly tragic, Robin Williams’ case is hardly a new phenomenon in the realm of celebrity and in Hollywood. Countless stars have succumbed to the pressures of stardom and resorted to drugs or other illegal and dangerous stimulants in order to somehow pacify the voices screaming at them to succeed, no matter what the cost.

This unfortunate occupational hazard is somewhat more widespread in the realm of comedy among a variety of comic personalities. It’s quite a paradox that people whose main job description includes making people laugh should be some of the most common recipients of depression and substance abuse.

In a Rolling Stone article written about Williams by fellow comedian Dana Gould, he attempts to shed some light on this issue among comedians, and states that he knew five comedians personally that ended up committing suicide, Williams included. He says that most successful comedians are people with overactive imaginations, people that dwell on all kinds of different scenarios that they encounter in their lives in order to glean great comedy routines from these situations. Gould explains that as a kid, he was not only hyperactive, but also constantly anxious. The only way he could battle this anxiety was by becoming extremely talkative and using humor to keep his mind from focusing on these negative aspects.

While these methods may work for a while, comedians like Williams may eventually get caught up in their own bouts of anxiety without anyone to talk to, because the world expects comedians to be consistently funny and put together inside and out. If you see a comedian at a party, chances are you’ll expect him or her to say something funny for your amusement.

The one thing I think many of us forget is that comedians are people, too, and like most people, don’t want to work 24/7. Imagine if someone were to ask someone with a stressful 9-5 job to do their job past the time they are working. When people aren’t working, they like to focus on other aspects of their life.

So, when we are remembering Robin Williams for all of the wonderful things he has done not only for comedy, but for society’s happiness in general, remember that people like him are people, too.