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Robin Williams 1951-2014. Depression is no joke.

Aug 12, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.16.24 AM AP

Robin Williams, man.

There’s no baseball connection here, though I suppose there could be if I stretched it. How about this: my favorite Robin Williams performance of all time came in the 1994 episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” entitled “Bop Gun.” In it he plays a father and husband who is visiting Baltimore with his family. They just took in an Orioles game at Camden Yards. While leaving the stadium a stickup man approaches them and Williams’ wife is murdered right in front of him and his children.

A big-name star like Williams — and at the time he was as big as he’d ever be, I’d reckon — could have viewed that role as one in which he was doing a favor to a struggling show. He could have just showed up, hit all of the cliche grieving crime-victim notes, cashed his check and been done with it. But he didn’t. He had the courage to play his character as, actually, something of an unlikable figure. A guy whose guilt and shock over what happened caused him to actually be a problem for the detectives who were investigating his wife’s death. It was uncomfortable to watch in places, but his refusal to simply play the sobbing, saintly widower rang very, very true. He got a well-deserved Emmy nomination for it. That’s one of my favorite shows of all time and I think of it an awful lot. Maybe because that episode started at a ballpark. Mostly, though, I think of it because Williams’ performance was daring, chilling, touching and thought-provoking.

We don’t really know the celebrities we see on the screen. We don’t know what makes them tick. We do know, however, that for as much joy and laughter as Robin Williams brought people, he himself suffered from crippling depression. Based on what we’re hearing about the circumstances of his death, it seems as though depression got the better of him.

Depression is no joke. It stalks its victims. Sometimes it plays with them, letting them go for a while, only to return to try to destroy them later. As a mental illness it gets overlooked and underestimated by many because, well, we just have messed up or under-informed attitudes in this country about mental illnesses. Because it can, outwardly, manifest itself as a mere bad mood or the blues we tend not to take it too seriously. We tell its sufferers to cheer up. We assume that, because they’re rich or famous or have good things in their lives, they somehow don’t have the “right” to be depressed. That they have a choice about whether to suffer from depression or not. A lot of people with depression feel that way, actually, which is why it so often goes untreated or undertreated.

It’s trite and pat to use a celebrity’s death as an inspiration for action, but it’s better than nothing, so I’ll say it anyway: if you are depressed or if you know someone who is, know that there is help out there. Try to get it or try to steer those who need it in that direction. You’d never self-treat or self-diagnose heart disease, cancer or anything else that could kill you, so don’t do it with depression either.

200 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. auminer96 - Aug 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    During last night’s Cardinals TV broadcast, Tim McCarver told an interesting story about Robin Williams. I missed the beginning of the story because I tend to tune out McCarver, but the gist of it was that McCarver was at a game with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal years ago. It was Williams’ first game and a foul ball landed in his lap. McCarver said that Billy Crystal was annoyed (but in a good-natured way) because he’d never caught a foul ball in all the years he had been attending games, and then Robin Williams has one drop in his lap at his very first game. It was a funny story, told better than I did just now.

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