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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Comedians can be sad too

    An amazing thing happened this week: I changed my mind.

    Robin Williams’ death affected a lot of people. I didn’t do any “down and dirty” surveys to come to that conclusion, but based on the number of articles, Facebook statuses and Instagram tributes I’ve seen, Williams’ death has shaken our generation. For a lot of us, Williams was a pivotal actor who starred in a lot of nostalgic films. From “Aladdin” to “Mrs. Doubtfire” to “Flubber,” the Juilliard-trained comedian made us laugh and cry simultaneously. He was someone our parents trusted from their experiences with his earlier films, but who never forewent opportunities to usher in a younger generation of fans.

    So I sympathized and mourned, too.

    However, more than mournful, I was frustrated by the way the media and the public were handling Williams’ death. It seemed like every article I read had something to say about the irony of Williams — comedian of all comedians — suffering depression and ending his life. The idea that he made us all laugh, but no one knew how hard he cried. Give me a break. Just because the guy played funny parts means he wasn’t allowed to suffer from mental illness? That’s not irony. That’s being human.

    I was even more upset upon hearing that Williams’ daughter, Zelda, had deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts just days after news broke of her father’s suicide. According to her posts, she felt so disrespected, harassed and hurt by so-called “fans” calling into question her relationship with her father and accusing her of contributing to his death that she decided to take a break from Twitter and Instagram.

    I was ready to write. Pen in hand and frustration in heart, I sat down to write a scathing article about the price of fame, actors’ celebrity-hood and how actors are just people, too. Just because you religiously watched someone in a funny movie as a kid does not mean you know them or have the right to comment on their life or speculate about their death.

    Halfway through writing the article, though, wiping anger-spit from my lower lip, I decided to give myself a breather: I checked my email. A message from Debra Cox-Howard, a mental health professional, was sitting patiently in my inbox. I had asked Cox-Howard to comment on the media’s depiction of Williams’ death.

    A licensed mental health clinician at Counseling and Psych Services and outreach coordinator here on campus, Cox-Howard answered, “It is my opinion that his death puts a well-known and familiar ‘face’ to suicide and mental illness in general, and that can be a good thing in that it grabs your attention. It is important for people to know and to see that just because a person ‘looks’ OK, that may not necessarily be the case.”

    I stopped writing that article. I was wrong. She was right.

    Williams is neither a friend nor a stranger; he’s a celebrity. Being a celebrity means living your life in the public eye. Whether that is a blessing or a curse or something in-between, this is the price you pay for international success and fame. Because he was a celebrity, Williams’ suicide is a huge event, something that has repercussions far beyond those closest to the deceased.

    Celebrities are teachers, and their lives — and deaths — are lessons. Williams’ suicide shouldn’t have had to happen. If we can learn from it, though, then maybe he didn’t die in vain.

    Follow Paul Thomson @BePaulite

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