On the death of Robin Williams (and celebrity deaths in general)

I was­n’t plan­ning to post any­thing today, at least, until I real­ized I prob­a­bly owe my friends and read­ers an expla­na­tion about why I don’t tend to mark the occa­sions of celebri­ty deaths. It’s some­thing I’ve most­ly tak­en for grant­ed, but on the flip side, I’m not sure if it’s some­thing those around me under­stand that well since I haven’t opened up too much about it.

So, here’s my expla­na­tion in a (very large) nutshell:

I always found it to be extreme­ly bizarre how, when a celebri­ty dies, so many peo­ple act as though they were clos­er to that per­son than they actu­al­ly were. You can admire some­one’s art, you can invite some­one’s phi­los­o­phy and works and ideas into your life, but when you start treat­ing the sce­nario like you were fam­i­ly and best bud­dies when that isn’t even slight­ly the case and you’ve nev­er once met the per­son, that’s sick.

I’ve nev­er felt the per­son­al dri­ve to invest so much emo­tion in celebri­ty. To me it has always seemed alien, iso­la­tion­ist, solip­sis­tic. If some­one does some­thing awe­some or note­wor­thy, then sure, feel free to rec­og­nize that. But please don’t take it to the grand excess­es that some­times occur — they don’t do any­one any good.

The cul­ture we live in today, the one that dri­ves peo­ple to do stu­pid things for the cam­era to feel super­fi­cial pay­off, or vault them­selves to the stars in the spot­light even as it steals a por­tion of their human­i­ty — it’s what rede­fines tox­i­c­i­ty in more ways than I feel com­fort­able writ­ing about here. It’s extreme­ly uncom­fort­able to see, to read about, or to be around.

And what real­ly sucks is find­ing out some­one has been so thor­ough­ly vic­tim­ized and whol­ly con­sumed by the process that they’ve tak­en their own life.

Speak­ing as a per­son who is more aware of and com­fort­able with death than the gen­er­al pop­u­lace, I think it’s not so much the fact a Hol­ly­wood star died, as it is the fact he diverged and was pulled away from a path that might have earned him peace of mind. It’s the visu­al­iza­tion of their ter­ror, their loss of con­trol, their utter suf­fer­ing inside, that real­ly both­ers me about these celebri­ty deaths. It’s the thought that maybe we, the soci­ety, are due to accept respon­si­bil­i­ty to an extent and are in some way, no mat­ter how small, cul­pa­ble for a part of that suffering.

Any­way, I get that there are going to be a shit ton of iron­ic Robin Williams memo­ri­als on social media in the wake of his sui­cide, and peo­ple are going to be talk­ing about it in the main­stream media for a long time to come. If you’re won­der­ing why I don’t take part, it’s part­ly out of respect, and part­ly out of the feel­ing that this is every­thing that’s wrong with fame. This applies as much in my mind to one celebri­ty-relat­ed event as it does any other.

A lot of peo­ple are about to use this sui­cide to pow­er a vari­ety of taste­less mon­ey-mak­ers and boost audi­ence view­er­ship through var­i­ous dia­logues about the actor’s death. Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on some­one’s death is sick too, and I pre­fer not to be a part of that.

If any good can be found among the tat­ters of this mess, and among the pub­lic’s out­pour­ing of grief, it stands with those who can take this time to under­stand the nar­ra­tive of Mr. Williams’ life and the grav­i­ty of the inva­sive, ero­sive, and per­son­al­ly dam­ag­ing effects fame can have on a per­son. Those among us who give of them­selves through the per­form­ing arts can often do so very com­plete­ly, and it is when this lifestyle becomes too great a weight and they’re at their weak­est, they need a shoul­der to lean on. Today’s news announce­ment should nev­er have hap­pened. A life lost to fame is one life too many.

In terms of the broad­er dia­logue that’s hope­ful­ly going to hap­pen here, it’s worth men­tion­ing that sui­cide can strike at any age. It can hap­pen to any­one, in any walk of life, and there are a lot of myths and mis­un­der­stand­ings being cir­cu­lat­ed about it. Take a moment now to head over to AFSP and Life­line and read more on the topic.

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