Like most of you, I never had the chance to meet Robin Williams. Yet so many of us feel like we knew him so well. I mean, I feel like I’ve lost my funny uncle Robin. By the time I was born, he was already in our living room most nights “calling Orson.” And even though Williams was known as a “character” actor, there was always something so raw about him. He brought himself to all of those imagined circumstances; the wit, charm, and yes, even the pain.
Back in 1987, the same year ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ came out, I lost my father to suicide. I was seven. Much like Robin Williams, my father lived with addiction and depression. It’s not uncommon for them to go together. Sometimes people self-treat with substances because of mental health issues and sometimes people become depressed after using substances. Chicken or egg, without proper treatment, suicide is often the end result.
Naturally, I grew up too fast and kinda slow all at the same time. Maybe that’s why I was still watching Disney movies in 1992 at 12 years old. In any case, there was something about ‘Aladdin’ that spoke to me. I watched it so many times I can still quote nearly every word. It wasn’t the street rat with a golden heart who gets the princess that had me hooked (though, it did give me hope), it was Genie. The sad, but lovable wish-granting friend with a 1,000 voices played by Robin Williams. I was fascinated that a man could create so much life with just his voice. I wanted to do what he did.
I can say this without question: I became an actor because of Robin Williams. It was while watching ‘Aladdin’ that I realized that people could get paid speaking into a microphone. I would practice silly voices all day long (sorry Mom). I am no Robin Williams, but eventually, people did start to pay me to speak into a microphone and even act in front of a camera.
As fate would have it, I have had my own struggles with depression and anxiety. Most of my late-teens and early-twenties were spent on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals trying to “fix” my brain chemistry. It was like ‘What Dreams May Come’ and ‘Patch Adams’ all mixed up in my head. Luckily, I had a great support system (thanks Mom) and eventually found the right treatment tools.
In 2007, I had an idea to start a community called NoStigmas where people with mental illness wouldn’t have to feel ashamed and could connect with peer supporters. Since then, the non-profit movement has grown and people all over the world are sharing their stories and finding no-cost support. Not surprising, a great number of the NoStigmas community are artists.
When I saw the preview for ‘The Crazy Ones’, I was upset by the stigmatizing title. People throw that word “crazy” around too much without understanding the impact it has on those with mental illness. But, maybe there is another way to look at it. As a badge of courage, like Williams did. That man was crazy brilliant and shared it without apology. As he said, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
Thank you for that, Robin Williams. Thank you for the many years of entertainment, inspiration, and friendship. Thank you for living your life in the public eye and sharing your story with the world. Nanu-Nanu!