Tag Archives: depression

Robin Williams’ Other Legacy

Robin WilliamsAs the outpouring of grief over Robin Williams’ death continues, it becomes more and more apparent that another legacy of the comedic genius will be heightened public awareness of the ravages of depression – and that is a good thing. In fact, Williams at his best would be pleased to play a part in bringing understanding and help to others battling the condition. The superstar who was so quick to lend his name and his energy to dozens of good causes, including the Comic Relief events he toplined with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, would surely have stepped up for this one.

Williams, as has been noted by many colleagues, gave his best in interviews. We experienced many of those rollicking sessions, during which he would fly rat-a-tat through free association craziness, character voice upon character voice, then veer into seriousness with insightful remarks. (I often quote his “humor half-life” measure of how funny a comedy bit is: funny if you laugh at the time, very funny if you think of it a day later and laugh again, exceptionally funny if you still laugh after a year or more. Robin scored lots of the latter. Think Mrs. Doubtfire, flaming bust, for instance.)

But the interviews changed in recent years, more and more tinged with the pain he was experiencing inside. He commented that his doctor used to tell him drugs could kill him. Now his doctor told him he needed drugs to stay alive. “So my doctor has become my dealer, and harder to get a hold of.”

He talked candidly about his return to drinking alcohol in 2003 after 20 years of sobriety. Asked by Decca Aitkenhead of the U.K.’s Guardian whether those who attributed his drinking to the loss of his friend, Christopher Reeve, were correct, he answered, “No…It’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.”

What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”  And loneliness, he said.

Ironically, he was promoting the black comedy film “World’s Greatest Dad” at the time – a film in which his character’s son dies, and he writes a fake suicide note that becomes a sensation. Suicide and death were present in several of his films.

Now, one can’t help wondering how much his fear and anxiety was at work within him, even as he made what was supposed to be, expected to be, a triumphal return to television last year with “The Crazy Ones.” The show had started off with 15.52 million viewers, making it the most highly viewed series premiere that fall – then ratings dropped off. Still, it was considered “on the bubble” until the announcement came that CBS was cancelling it – with an audience of 10.5 million, the highest-rated cancellation of last season. Don’t be surprised if stories emerge that there was more of a problem behind the scenes than a supporting cast that didn’t quite jell.

In fact, there will be, sadly, many more stories emerging of Williams’ decades-long struggle with depression, which fueled his alcohol and substance abuse, and the pain behind his tragic end. He was jarred by his heart surgery – for replacement of an aortic valve – in 2009. He felt open and vulnerable, and very mortal, a feeling he said never left him, which he considered a blessing.

He had reached out for help numerous times, had gone through 12 step program rehabs and sobriety journeys with friends. Tragically, it wasn’t enough.

Hugh Laurie Regrets Having Talked About Depression

Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie

The list is long of show business luminaries — ranging from Emma Thompson. Mike Wallace and Billy Joel to Drew Carey and Harrison Ford — who have been victims of clinical depression. “House” star Hugh Laurie qualifies for that list, but he thinks that perhaps, “The problem is actually just as common for people in other fields. It’s just most interesting, for some reason, to read of entertainers and their problems. I personally regret ever having talked about having the problem. It labeled me with this depressed clown badge and became a much bigger part of my life than it deserved.”

The brilliant actor and comedian/accomplished singer and musician adds, “There must be a lot of depression among coal miners, though we never hear of it. But that’s outside my field of expertise. Actually, everything is beyond my field of expertise.”

He’s kidding about the latter. But serious when he talks of his background in England and observes that, as the son of a physician, “I grew up with a great reverence for medicine, but playing a doctor is slightly complicated because I’m obviously faking it. On the other hand, I think many people go through life being afraid that people will discovered they’re ‘faking it.’ Maybe my father did, too. Certainly actors have that fear. In fact, I think its every actor’s dread that he’ll be heckled on stage, or that it will be
discovered he’s not good enough. Believe me, it’s a very common fear.”

FAMILY MATTERS: Christopher Gorham returns to the tube April 9 in CBS’ “Harper’s Island” horror-mystery series, playing the groom in a wedding where guests start getting killed off one by one “I first read the script and I thought it was a really interesting idea. The script for the pilot was good. But more than that, I loved the idea of telling the whole story in 13 episodes,” says the actor. “It was shooting in Vancouver; I have kids and I didn’t want to be involved longer than 13 episodes.” Gorham’s the proud dad of seven and five-year-old sons and a two-month-old daughter. He says that right now, “I am very contentedly playing Mr. Mom, taking my sons to school, changing diapers. The baby is great. She’s waking up only twice, sometimes just once, at night.”

Gorham, whose last series role was as Henry, ex-boyfriend of America Ferrera’s “Ugly Betty,” adds that he was also lured to “Harper’s Island” by the fact Jon Turteltaub is aboard as writer-executive producer. “He can take something like ‘National Treasure,’ an idea that seems on its face it might be silly, and take it and make it something great, filled with heart and fun and adventure. If people stick with the show, they will be happy.”

CROWNING GLORY: Also hoping that viewers stick with her mid-season entry is Susanna Thompson of NBC’s much-anticipated “Kings,” which premieres Sunday, March 15. “If people could give it a good four episodes, you’ll watch it start to take off,” she’s convinced. “It comes on with gangbusters just with the pilot and then you’ve got the stories that are setting the tone and the environment for people. From what I’ve seen of the footage, it’s also visually unlike anything I’ve seen recently on television. It definitely has feature film quality, especially since Francis Lawrence, who did ‘I Am Legend,’ was directing,” touts Thompson, who plays Ian McShane‘s wife, Queen Rose Benjamin. “While it was really long days, the experience was fantastic because it was very much this bigger, amazing world that we all had to commit to at such a high level.”

Thompson goes on, “We’ve been saying it’s a modern/post-modern retelling of David and Goliath. As we’ve lived with the show and got each new episode handed to us, it kind of felt it was too big to live within those boundaries now. It’s very classic and biblical in a sense. It focuses on why we’re here and what we’re here doing. It’s big human stories. It’s the exploration of power and how it corrupts,” she tells us. “But the best way to describe it is if you take the template of some of the biblical stories, I don’t want to say the template of the Bible, just biblical stories, and you overlay those on top of this modern day monarchy, then that’s where we’re headed.”

THE VIDEOLAND VIEW: Looking over the lists of pilots being shot this season, it doesn’t look like there’s much likelihood of a big comeback for scripted comedy anytime soon. Still, there are some interesting names in the mix. Cedric the Entertainer and Jason Biggs are among the funny guys lining up with potential series, Cedrick with his ABC-DreamWorks’ “The Law,” which would have him as a reserve duty sheriff training weekend volunteers in L.A. — and “American Pie’s” Biggs with his dysfunctional family comedy, “Happiness Isn’t Everything.” The very funny Mitch Hurwitz (“Arrested Development”) is among the creators of the latter, which helps.


With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster.