I’m grieving the tragic loss of Robin Williams and it reminds me of the time I met his idol and mentor, Jonathan Winters. You young whippersnappers may not remember Mr. Winters, but he had a frenetic, multiple-personality delivery style that inspired the young Robin to let go and play so hard on stage.
I was an extra in a Noble Roman’s Pizza commercial in Indianapolis in the late 70’s, and Jonathan was the celebrity spokesperson. He came in to the restaurant smiling and shaking hands. He was a comedy god to me, and it was so cool to be in his presence. We all sat at our tables pretending to talk and eat pizza while he delivered his lines to the camera.
Everything was all light-hearted and fun until Jonathan started having trouble with his final line. He kept dropping key words and transposing letters. “When a Roble Noman’s pizza truck comes up to your door…”
Time is money on a video set. The director was getting impatient and the star was becoming agitated. They even collected all of our silverware so the clanking wouldn’t be a distraction. Jonathan got frustrated to the point he had to leave for 20 minutes to collect himself.
They eventually got the shot after about 15 takes, but that scene changed my outlook on celebrities. We usually see their final, polished performances up on the screen, but rarely see the outtakes and struggles they go through. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, the comedy god is human.”
Like his mentor, Robin Williams was also human. He was extremely talented and generous and hard-working… but still human. He made us laugh for so many years and will never be forgotten for that work, but he also had an internal struggle we did not see. I can’t imagine the pain he must have felt to not be able to make it through one more day. I just can’t. I suppose being loved by millions does not ensure being loved by oneself.
The only silver lining I can see in this tragedy is the discussion on depression circulating throughout the socialsphere right now. Perhaps someone else’s struggle will NOT end in tragedy. Perhaps another human soul will reach out for help before it’s too late.
If you think you might be that soul, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for some free and confidential help. And above all my friend, hang in there… you are loved, and you matter.