News outlets are reporting that Robin Williams has died, of an apparent suicide. The actor and comedian, who was only 63, evidently had been battling severe depression.
Williams became a big star on the TV show Mork and Mindy, and over the next four decades he had a busy career in stand-up comedy, in movies, and as the voice for animated characters. Although many lauded his movie roles, both comic and serious, I always thought that Williams’ true medium was in his stand-up routines — his riff on Scotland and golf, below, is a classic — and he was absolutely brilliant as the voice and motivating spirit behind the manic genie in Disney’s Aladdin.
We tend to idolize Hollywood stars, musicians, and other cultural figures, and think that because they are rich and successful they must have wonderful lives. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case — they are human like the rest of us, and they also often wrestle with their inner demons. It’s tragic that someone like Robin Williams, who brought joy and laughter to millions, had to struggle with his own issues of depression, and it’s sadder still that he apparently lost that battle. Although we no doubt will hear about how the world has lost a titanic talent over the next few days, the real loss is that experienced by Williams’ family, who now have a gigantic hole in their lives that can never be filled.
When Kish and I arrived from from our trip yesterday, we had gone eight full days without watching a minute of TV. Last night we broke the string by checking out the end of the PGA tournament.
For the first few days of our trip, there was no real TV option to be had. Our room at the bed and breakfast in Tamworth, New Hampshire didn’t have a TV set, and there wasn’t a TV to be found anywhere on the premises of the Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp (which is, I think, part of the whole idea of that great facility). We didn’t feel deprived in either place because our days were filled with walking, swimming, reading, and visiting places we wanted to see. In fact, not having a TV was kind of liberating — there was one less choice to be made.
The same was true at our stops in the Berkshires and at the Chautauqua Institution grounds, except that I think our rooms in those two places may well have had TVs. We didn’t really notice because in both places we had lots to do, with more strolling past new places, visiting the spectacular Mass MoCA Museum, and watching Shakespeare and a fine concert and ballet performance. After days filled with such activities, watching some limp TV show would have been a kind of comedown.
I’ve often thought that TV is a kind of reflexive gap filler; you’ve got a few hours to kill before you go to bed, and watching TV helps to pass that time. It’s not that TV is an evil force, it’s just that it’s an easy default option — and a mindless one. Our vacation showed it doesn’t have to be that way.