Robin

2020-03-06T20:30:33-05:00

Robin, by Dave Itzkoff, is a biography on Robin Williams.

I was never really a fan of Robin Williams. When he died in 2014 it seemed to me like the internet was upset but I didn't understand why. People like to say things like "this is the first time a celebrity death has affected me". All I knew was that a famous comedian/actor had committed suicide. Since then I hadn't thought much of the event but the idea that one of the world's most charming, successful, seemingly happy, men was driven to suicide stuck with me.

I haven't been reading much non-fiction lately. I don't think I've ever read a full biography before, so reading this book was a new experience for me. I realized that reading about someone else's life has an element of hope involved. I found myself looking for the moment where everything falls into balance. Evidently, that moment never seems to come. Sure, there were great triumphs, but they were always followed by some type of loss. There's still a part of me that wants there to a sort of finish line; make it past this point and the rest of your life will be alright.

Many callbacks to Robin's childhood are made throughout the book. I find it almost disheartening that often our circumstances during childhood are what shape us into the people we become. And then we spend our time trying to resolve what problems childhood has ingrained into us. And then we spend even more time trying to go back to what being a child was like. Being a child means having very little choice, but seems to make up a big part of who we are. I guess you have to go through some type of developmental phase at some point no matter what you do. Ultimately what ends up making us is the decisions we make based on things we can't control.

Often people felt that they never really got to know all of Robin Williams. He would never fully open up to people, breaking into different voices and reverting to jokes instead of serious conversation. At the same time he had a way of making people feel connected to him, like they were best friends, even if they'd only just met. When it comes to forming relationships with people, I tend to have varying degrees of openness. Typically relationships get more open over time, based on what we've experienced together or if an element of trust has been built up. But often there's a persona or obligation that gets created at the start of the relationship that I'll maintain without really knowing why. Typically its usually something small like speech patterns. This results in feeling like a different person around different people. I think ultimately I have a tendency to try to make people like me, and one of the best ways of doing that (or at least the one I default to) is to try to appear similar to them.

Robin never stopped working. When he had kids and was making plans to settle down, seemingly he would very soon be off to yet another movie set. When his health was diminishing, it took extreme circumstances to cause him to finally step back. I think that maybe a small part of this was related to money, and that the rest has more to do with Robin's need to find himself within his work as well as maintain the definition of who he was. At the same time I'm not sure if what Robin was doing towards the end of his career was work or if it was more of a cathartic release. For creatives, to stop creating is an absolute nightmare, so whether you get paid or not, you have to keep doing it.

This leads into the circumstances of Robin's suicide. Those closest to him believe that under the threat of losing his physical and cognitive abilities (he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease), Robin took his own life before he lost full control of his own body. At the same time, some thought that Robin wouldn't have made his decision if he had the quality of mind to know he was leaving his children behind. It was later discovered that Robin had undiagnosed lewy body dementia, which played a large factor in his loss of mental health.

Is life worth living despite the certainty of a long, grueling, unwinnable fight? I think that our relationships are largely what keep us grounded. When people feel isolated and that they have no real connection to the world around them, finding justification to keep going is a monumental—perhaps impossible—task. Yet every day people endure impossible challenges under a sense of responsibility to their family and loved ones. So I agree with the theory that Robin might not have been in his right mind at the time of his passing.

While the end to his life was tragic, it's clear that Robin brought happiness and cheer to the world through his work. This book does a great job at telling the story of not a perfect man, but a great one.