Tag Archives: suicide

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.

Annie Potts Plows New Career Territory With AfterMath

Annie Potts is definitely plowing new career territory with her current theatrical stint in Elliot Shoenman’s AfterMath, which debuted this month at L.A.’s Odyssey Theater.  It’s a drama with comedy about the widow and two nearly-grown children of a suicide victim.  Annie has been in on its development for the past couple of years.

“The writer, who has had a long and wonderful career as a comedy writer, lost his own father to suicide when he was 19,” she reports, speaking of Shoenman, whose credits include six years of “Home Improvement.”  “He’s taken the bones of his experience and put it into a present-day situation.  He’s changed the characters some.  It’s really an anti-suicide piece; the psychological damage they leave in their wake is unbelievable.  I think the extraordinary thing about the piece is how funny it is,” she adds.  “You wouldn’t think that subject matter could possibly, possibly be funny, but there are a lot of laughs in it.”

Certainly the “Designing Women” veteran knows her way around a funny line — but AfterMath requires moments of silent despair as well, and her multi-layered work has been praised by critics.  “My character is trying to put her life back together, trying to figure out why what happened, happened,” she says.  She also says that Shoenman “actually used his own father’s suicide note in the play.  It was just three lines:  ‘I couldn’t take it anymore.  Take care of the kids.  Sell the car.'”

Annie notes, “I had never been part of developing something so long-range.  It’s been great and one of the reasons it’s been great has been such a lovely, easy collaboration.  Elliot Shoenman is such a prince.”  Also, says the mother of three sons, “Having that empty nest made it really appealing to develop this piece.  I had freedom to do that.  Idle hands, devil’s hands — it was good to be involved in something.”

After her two younger sons moved out to their respective schools last year, “It was a little rough the first month or so,” she admits.  However, she did soon come to appreciate “not having to get up at quarter to six to make eggs they don’t eat.”

As for what’s next?  “I would love to take AfterMath other places.  I’m having such a great time.”  Broadway?  “I’d settle for Off,” says the actress, who did a Broadway run in God of Carnage in ’09.  “Stage was my first love, what I always wanted to do. The roles are much richer on stage for me right now.  But I love it all, you know.  I love every medium.”