It’s no surprise that I went to bed last night thinking about the tragic loss of Robin Williams. I know nothing about his daily life and struggles and even less about the insidious nature of mental illness but I do know that there is always help available and the fact that he couldn’t or wouldn’t accept assistance to deal with his demons makes me very angry. I understand that he had addiction issues years ago but managed to overcome them for a long time.
Addiction and mental illness are not issues that only affect the famous, but we hear much more about their problems than we do anyone else (blame the internet!) because we want to know what life is like with more money than you can spend, hordes of adoring fans, fabulous houses and trips around the world on a whim. We want to have enough information that we can pretend to live that kind of life because it sounds so much better than the lives that most of us are living. (I wouldn’t mind having a private jet to take me to my personal island in the Caribbean!)
What makes me angry about our desire to know every aspect of life in the public eye is that these people have absolutely no privacy anymore. They are followed when they go to work, the gym, the grocery store or the park with their kids. How does one try to deal with such a personal issue as mental illness or addiction when they know that the whole world will be talking about it within an hour? We have lost too many bright artists to illness that should have been fixable, possibly because they felt it needed to be hidden from the world. Everyone watched Britney Spears having her epic breakdown years ago, more recently it was Amanda Bynes. Luckily both of these young women were able to get the help that they needed to keep their demons from consuming them. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to try to put the pieces back together with the whole world watching every minute
Others have been able to hide their problems better and have taken the world by surprise. Robin Williams is the most recent example, he checked himself into a facility a few months ago but seemed to be doing well until yesterday. Cory Monteith made headlines when his hidden addiction ended in his death and I still remember the day that I heard River Phoenix had overdosed outside of the Viper Room. I was hugely disappointed when I read Corey Feldman’s book and learned that he had been in the throes of a cocaine addiction when he filmed some of my favourite movies. He and I are very close in age and he was one of my favourite celebrities when I was growing up. I felt very let down that he cared more about getting high than he did about all the fans that made him famous.
It’s ridiculous, I know. By that point he had very little control over his actions, addiction had taken him over. He was able to overcome it though and I had the pleasure of “meeting” him a few years ago, I was at the Young Artists Awards in Hollywood where he was the special guest. After the awards he posed for pictures with the young actors and actresses, as well as a number of their parents who are fans. Looking back at that experience I realized how difficult it must be to have those kinds of demands placed on you. His family had accompanied him to the banquet and they were waiting for him to finish up with the photos, his little boy was just a toddler then and if I had already been a mom I would have recognized a kid who was ready to go home and just wanted his dad.
On that day, in that circumstance, I was part of the problem. I cared more about getting my picture taken with my idol than I did about his happiness and the happiness of his family…and that makes me angry. Angry that we have built these people up so high that we all feel that it’s okay to take a piece of them every chance we get. Angry that they are contractually obligated to have to choose between their family or health and their fans. Angry that their perfect looking lives aren’t anywhere close to actually perfect.
I would like to say that from now on I am going to stop being part of the problem, I will let these people live their lives and take care of their problems without being watched through my microscope but it’s not going to happen, we’re too far entrenched in our ways. What I would like to have happen is for it to be okay for people to admit that they have a problem and need help without it becoming the lead story on the news. Let all people know that it’s okay to ask for help and give them the time and space that they need to deal with it.
Not only would that maybe have earned us a few more fantastic Robin Williams movies, it would also have saved countless families, famous and not, the heartbreak that comes when problems get the better of us.