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Things weren't OK

Aug 14, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

In retrospect, Williams interview provided chilling premonition

Imagine, if you can, what it must have been like to be Robin Williams, the electrifyingly brilliant comedian and actor who killed himself Monday.

His style of entertaining -- that wildly improvisational, stream-of-consciousness riffing that carried him from one topic to the next, from one character to the next, from one joke to the next in a fashion no one else could achieve -- must have ben exhausting, perhaps even frightening to him.

Where did it come from? How could he summon it? And what if he couldn't summon it one day when he was supposed to?

In an interview with the perceptive Terry Gross on the NPR radio show "Fresh Air" in 2006, Williams recalled an incident while he was traveling:

"A woman came up to me in an airport and said, 'Be zany,'" as if he could, or should turn it on at a moment's notice while waiting in baggage claim.

"It's that thing -- they want you to be that thing," he told Terry Gross. "And it's like, 'No.' Sometimes it's fun, and I'll play if the moment's right, if there's an opportunity. And if not, I'll talk straight with you."

In light of what happened Monday, what Williams said next has an even deeper ring:

"Oh, they (comedians) have a dark side, I mean, because they're looking at that. In the process of looking for comedy, you have to be deeply honest. And in doing that, you'll find out here's the other side. You'll be looking under the rock occasionally for the laughter. So they have a depressed side. But is it always the sad clown thing? No. But I find comics to be pretty honest people in terms of looking at stuff from both sides, or all sides. ...

"I volunteered to be on the cover of a -- I think it was Newsweek, for their issue on medication. ... And when the guy said, 'Well, do you ever get depressed?' I said, 'Yeah, sometimes I get sad.' I mean, you can't watch news for more than three seconds and go, 'Oh, this is depressing.'

"And then immediately, all of a sudden, they branded me manic-depressive. I was like, 'Um, that's clinical? I'm not that.' Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes. Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh, yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh, yeah.

"I get bummed, like I think a lot of us do at certain times. You look at the world and go, 'Whoa.' And then other moments, you look and go, 'Oh. Things are OK.'"

That second step, the one when "you look and go, 'Oh. Things are OK," failed him Monday.

The world is diminished.

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