I was really hesitant to weigh in on everything with Robin Williams, but this is a post that has been on my mind since Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and I’m not sure I can hold back from writing it any longer.
I’ve been particularly shaken by some of the recent celebrity deaths. People like Philip Seymour Hoffman, like Robin Williams, I feel like I know them. I remember growing up on Mrs. Doubtfire, remember the first time I saw Dead Poet’s Society in a psychology class in college. I remember when I went through an indie films phase and got my first taste of Hoffman in The Savages.
In short, I feel like I knew these people. Not just on the surface, but because I had seen so many facets of their personality on screen, I felt like I truly, deeply knew these people. When Robin Williams passed away, I felt like I was losing some sort of childhood figure the same way I would have felt had I heard a childhood friend’s parent had died. Hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death took me back to hearing about losses of acquaintances in school. It felt personal enough that it made me take a step back and think about life differently, at least for a little bit.
And then something hit me. I’m not alone in these deaths feeling personal. If my news feed on Facebook yesterday was any indication, it hits everyone hard when someone beloved, someone we grew up on, dies. Cries of “Oh captain, my captain!” and “Nanu Nanu” rang out on Facebook and I realized that Robin William’s death is personal for everyone.
But here’s the deal… we saw Robin Williams. We watched him in films. We saw him play Teddy Roosevelt and Mrs Doubtfire and all of these roles and everything seemed fine. He was funny, he was happy, things were great on the surface. It takes me back to a few years ago when a local channel’s weather anchor committed suicide. He was funny. He joked and laughed, but he was harboring this dark, desperate feeling inside, and eventually, he couldn’t hold on any longer.
Clearly, a local celebrity hits home closer. That’s someone I could have ran into at the grocery store, someone who I might have known in passing. And that’s what’s so scary to me… that all of us, no matter what town we live in, what part of the world we’re in, no matter our walk of life, income level, family status– we all know someone. Each and every one of us knows someone who might be going through the same struggles that Robin Williams went through with depression, that Philip Seymour Hoffman went through with his drug addiction.
Maybe it’s the teen sacking your groceries at the store, the mail carrier delivering your packages to your doorstep, the person who goes for a run each morning around your block. Any one of them could be struggling with depression, or drug addiction, or any host of problems.
And I can guarantee it will hit you the same way. If one of them were overcome by addiction, or their depression consumed them and they did what we all feel as unthinkable, you’d think “How could that happen? I knew them. They were funny/cheery/happy/whatever.” You might say “Yeah, you know, maybe there was just something I missed there.”
Most likely, you’d feel sad. You’d wonder if something could have been done. And then, after days, weeks, maybe months, you’d move on. You’d remember from time to time, but not the way you would if it was someone closer to you.
And that’s what scares me. You see, Robin William’s death hit me hard because I felt like I knew him. And it made me wonder who else I think I know that I don’t really know, that I haven’t taken the time to listen to. If someone had listened to Robin, checked in with him, or if someone had asked Phillip how he was doing, seen if he had fallen off of the wagon, tried to get him the help he needed, maybe they’d still be with us. And maybe, just maybe, if I took more than a passing second to ask “How are you?” to the cashier before interrupting to hand over my coupons and get out the door, or if I stopped to say hello to my mail carrier, maybe my actions would help someone hold on just a little bit longer.
The death of these celebrities that I thought I knew simply because I had seen them so often in life made me wonder if there are people that I think I know in real life, that maybe I’m missing who they are.
Maybe it’s for the good– maybe there’s someone who seems annoying or overbearing that I feel like I know on the surface, and maybe they’re pure gold underneath. How often am I wrapped up in my day-to-day, my silly toddler, my writing, my photography, that I don’t notice what those around me are experiencing?
If nothing else, the deaths of these celebrities encouraged me to stop, pay a little bit more attention to the people who are around me. I don’t think my stopping to listen will necessarily save a life, but at the same time, who is to say it wouldn’t? I feel like it’s worth thinking about, taking the time to get to know more of those people I think I know. After all, I can’t change what a celebrity like Robin Williams does, but I can do a better job of making an impact in those people I know-but-don’t in my own town.
It’s worth a shot.