Many of us have heard that today (12/8/2014) that comedian & actor Robin Williams was found dead in his home of an apparent suicide.
Naturally, this has caused a massive outpouring of grief from the famous, the infamous & the mundane yet to put things into perspective, also in the world today famous Irish actor J.J. Murphy died after filming part of his role on the next season of The Game of Thrones, riots broke out in Ferguson Missouri caused by the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by members of the local police force, an apparent coup has happened in Iraq as the Islamic States continues to slaughter its way through that nation.
Yet this day shall be marked by the passing of one man.
I am not diminishing a family’s loss or grief but rather seek to highlight why the death of a single celebrity can impact us, as relatively secure members of the First World, more than the force of global events that occur every day in our most harsh world.
That is because we as consumers of media have a more immediately feeling of presence of a celebrity in relation to out lives. They aren’t some distance abstract that that many of us cannot fathom or relate to because it (hopefully) goes beyond our own experiences. Yet a celebrity is in our lives almost every day, whether you are a devoted fan or casually note random appearances of them. We find them more relatable because the cult of celebrity permeates our lives, we project out own hopes & desires upon them, using them for a touch of vicarious living.
There are also some celebrities who do genuinely affect our lives, open our eyes & actually help us through some very dark times that we may face.
Robin Williams was such a celebrity because he was very open about his own faults & addictions -having battled drugs & alcohol his entire adult life. Like many other comedians, such as the legendary Richard Pryor (1940-2005) or Billy Connelly, he shared his pain with his audience in order to both make them laugh & to exorcise them from himself. He also showed an exceptional ability for acting, both comedic & serious, which can be hypothesised as being part his natural ability to hide his pain -which has also been mentioned by some of his friends & contemparies as why he often acted so manic & did impersonations. His roles touched many & also helped inspire many, such as his famous turn in Dead Poet Society, as seen here:
That is one reason why his death has been so felt by so many yet it is not the entirity of the matter.
When anyone dies it causes us, as human beings, to reflect upon our own mortality. When someone whom is famous dies, the news is flashed through the media to both provide information but also for the ghoulish reason of making people watch that news service, which gets people watching sponsored messages & helps push brand awareness & revenue for the media provider up. It is difficult to escape the news of any celebrity death, which pushes up our own self-reflection of the Mortal coil up to levels they would otherwise not be.
In losing them, we lose part of ourselves.
In that we are once again granted awareness of our own deaths, causing the death of our ignorance and innocence within the same moment. It is this which causes us the most pain.
That is not to say that we do not have some genuine grief over the passing over another human being but it is a communal grief -a collective acceptance of our mortality & limitations. All the dreams & desires that died with the person yet it is also because we have some shared memory or experience of that person. Some part of our collective lives that was so deftly yet unknowningly touched by they who are now gone. Many were so marked by William’s turn at playing the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, which is highlighted in this performance:
He was also a performer who crossed generation, with many first seeing him on screen in the odd sitcom Mork & Mindy. He then accompanied many of us through our media infused lives, in many guises. Some more memorable & touching then others yet it cannot be denied that no genuine, interpersonal connection existed between audience (with some natural exceptions), so our grief returns to the aforementioned point of us not grieving for the loss of an individual but rather for the passing of an icon, a memory & ourselves.
Whenever someone famous dies, we see the usual media scrum & wrenching of shirts because it is culturally acceptable. Again, it is the communal grief & the lifting the collective fear of individual mortality that permeates cultures so abstract from the truth of everyday loss & violence. It does not deny that people feel that loss acutely yet we still must acknowledge that we do not mourn for whom we don’t know, only for ourselves.
Even with that being said, any loss, known or unknown, weighs upon our collective humanity. With grief being a myriad beast that lies hidden deep within so many, merely waiting for release.
One thing I do hope that has occurred with Robin Williams’ passing is that is highlights issues that people do have with depression & addiction. I hope it does make people genuinely reflect upon themselves & their own lives; to seek out help where it can be found & to realise that they don’t have to suffer alone (as so many out there do because they do not know where or to whom to turn). Find the people & services that can provide the most help & if they are unfunded & overwhelmed, bring attention to the situation. In this: one life, voice can begin to help many -your own voice, your own life.
If you do feel as though you are falling into a dark unfathomable place, reach out your hands to see who grasps it. Many of us suffer through such things but does not mean we have to suffer alone.
Yet to bring it back to a singular point: the world is diminished by the loss of a brilliant, truthful jester in Robin Williams yet we must use such passings as a means to uplift ourselves, our friends & families if they need to be uplifted.
All grief shall end, all memories fade yet to be touched by a single spark in a dark cold world can speak of the brilliance of existence that few truly acknowledge.