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Why You are Sad Robin Williams Died

Updated on August 13, 2014
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Robin Williams Suicide Shocks World

Anytime a celebrity of mega-watt status like Robin Williams dies, it is going to gain massive media attention. Recent news of his suicide has shaken many people to their core, causing mass shock that can be felt around the world.

Ever since word of his death hit the newswire, interest in Robin Williams, his movies and his mental health history have skyrocketed. A quick look at social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, suggests that people have been deeply moved by his passing and are trying to process a multitude of feelings, ranging from sadness to disbelief.

For many, it is a time of mourning. Mass grief in fact is a common reaction when celebrities die unexpectedly.

What is difficult for fans and casual observers to comprehend is: How could a person as funny and energetic as Robin Williams was be suffering from depression?

To help us better understand what fans of the star may be feeling right now, I decided to speak with an expert who has experience with celebrity deaths.

Dr. John D. Moore Author of Confusing Love with Obsession
Dr. John D. Moore Author of Confusing Love with Obsession

Interview: Dr. John D. Moore

Dr. John D. Moore is a licensed psychotherapist, certified drug and alcohol counselor and approved clinical supervisor. He is author of the bestselling book, Confusing Love with Obsession and is founder of 2nd Story Counseling in Chicago, which is where Robin Williams was born.

His work has been featured in many popular media outlets, including Cosmo, the Los Angeles Times and Men’s Health. I spoke with Dr. Moore when Paul Walker died an effort to gain greater insight into the topic of mass grief and public trauma.

I was able to speak to contact him and ask a few questions about the death of Robin Williams.

Let’s jump right in.

How Sad?

How sad were you when you heard Robin Williams died?

See results

Why are so many people interested in Robin Williams right now?

There are a number of reasons. To begin with, Williams was an extremely popular actor, known for his gifted sense of humor and ability to make people laugh. He literally could take almost any topic, situation or event and instantly make it funny. He was known as the king of “improv”.

Second, Robin Williams has been in our living rooms for decades, be it through his movies, television shows or in the form of popular magazines. As a result, people around the world felt they knew him personally.

What role does the nature of his death have in elevating his profile?

One of the main things that can increase interest around celebrity, as in the case of Williams, is the manner in which they died. In this situation, we have a psychological paradox going on, meaning that it’s hard for people to understand how someone who could bring people so much joy also suffer from such deep emotional pain. That he died of an apparent suicide only compounds the feelings of shock and disbelief.

And the age of a celebrity also can have an impact on reactions from the public. Williams was a relatively young actor, only 63. Think about other stars who were young and suddenly died and you will see a correlation in public interest. Examples include Paul Walker, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston and JFK, Jr.

The notable item about Robin Williams is what I like to call the “opposites of reality”, meaning his public persona was jovial and happy. Inside however, he appeared to be deeply sad – namely, depression.

Source

Word is that Robin Williams had an addiction – can you speak about this?

He has publicly spoken about his struggles with addiction on a number of occasions. While I am not privy to his personal medical records, I can speak in broader terms about how addiction can impact depression.

Go on

My understanding is that Williams lived with an addiction to cocaine and alcohol. Anyone who has an addiction to these kinds of substances can be vulnerable to depression. And if a person has a pre-existing diagnosis of a mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, the addiction can act as an exacerbating force. This is true of people who are living a life of sobriety - meaning they are drug and/or alcohol free.

Are you saying that even if an addict is not using, they are prone to depression

The simple answer is – yes. Think about it for a moment. Many people who suffer from depression learned to medicate their emotional pain through the use of substances. A good number of these folks did not even know they were depressed in the first place. They just knew that using a given drug made them feel better. And it here where you see addictions are often formed. It can be a vicious cycle.

Let me tack on that staying on the path to sobriety is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. Imagine for a second that you already have major depression. Now imagine that while you are trying battle this legitimate health concern you are also trying to remain “clean” from alcohol or drugs. It’s not easy – not easy at all. It requires ongoing support, treatment and for many, therapy, in order to maintain wellness.

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire
Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire | Source

How is it possible he could make us so happy yet be depressed?

That’s the thing about depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues – you can’t always spot them. Many people who suffer from a mood disorder appear to be fine however, on the inside, they may silently be suffering. Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder often require ongoing, lifetime treatment. Here we are talking about a combination of talk-therapy and in many cases, medication. The best we can do is manage mood disorders however, we can't cure them.

There are a good number of people who have been - or are in - the public spotlight that have suffered from depression. Because of stigmas that are connected to these disorders, they are often not discussed and widely misunderstood.

If anything, the death of Robin Williams may help to spark greater awareness around the topic of depression and mental health in general. It is unfortunate however that it takes the suicide of a major star to get us talking about these issues.

Williams talks about addiction

Do people form emotional ties to celebrities?

Absolutely – no question about it. These bonds are formed through common interests and experiences. In the case of Williams, you had several things going on which tied him to a multi-generational, large fan base.

First, if you like comedy, you are probably going to love Robin Williams. A good chunk of his television shows and movies roles fell into the comedic realm. Keep in mind that this was an actor who had been with us, in some form, since the late 70’s. We’re talking Mork and Mindy era. And he kept appearing in new TV roles and movies year after year, all the way through today. That kind of presence is just going to create a humongous fan base.

Second, Williams was known for taking on unusual roles and making them into something big-time memorable. Mrs. Doubtfire for example comes to mind. The ability to “step” into a difficult role and pull it off in such a powerful way is just not something any actor can do. And so as a result, you had a fan base that cut across generational lines, gender lines and sexual orientation.

Finally, Robin Williams was “comfort food” for many people, including me. Whenever you saw him, you knew he was going to make you laugh. He had that unique ability to do that. It’s not something that can be manufactured or that I can really articulate into words.

Is it sick that people want to know about the morbid details of his death?

Not really. In fact, it’s very human. It is our nature to be curious about death and dying. Folks are still talking about how public figures that passed away long ago died. Examples include John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Recent examples include Paul Walker and Whitney Houston.

Were you a fan of Robin Williams?

Yep – I sure was. I can remember watching him back on Mork and Mindy and even on SCTV. He was from Chicago so there was that connection too.

When I think about it thought, I guess he was just someone I naturally gravitated towards. I suspect that is the case for lots of people. I would like to say here that my deepest sympathies go out to William’s wife, children and entire family.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams | Source

What can people do to cope with their feelings?

There are a couple of things. I don’t have specifics on the numbers but I suspect that interest in his movies and memorabilia have shot up. Watching Robin Williams and remembering why we liked him in the first place may bring people comfort. We get so caught up in the events of a star’s passing that we forget about what drew us to them in life.

Joining in discussions that share memories and stories about Williams can also be helpful. There are lots of places for this in the world of social media, such as fan pages on Facebook. Talking about what a certain celebrity means to us can be deeply therapeutic.

And readers of this interview should know that it is not uncommon for a celebrity death to stir up some or our own stuff – meaning that if addiction or depression hit close to home, we may need to seek out support and help. Places for support include 12-step meetings, like AA or in the work we do with a helping professional, like a therapist.

People can also donate to a charity that supports the treatment of depression or addiction. The National Alliance on Mental Health may be a good option. There are many others of course. What’s important is that folks give to a cause that relates to something he was concerned about.

Thank you for your time Dr. Moore

You bet and I hope everyone takes time to learn more about depression. It really is a serious medical issue that we should not be afraid or ashamed to talk about.

End of Interview

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      sal 2 years ago

      I was first shocked, then devastated by his death. I grew up in the 60's and 70's and watched him play Mork when he was on Happy Days and on Mork and Mindy. I thought he was so cute, funny and quirky.....then he started making movies which I went to see first run in the theater, in Garp and Good Morning Vietnam. Never expected him to leave us so soon. It's still shocking that he's gone. I am a woman in my early 50's. Every time someone like Williams dies unexpectedly it's like another blow to my past teenage memories or something. It was somewhat similar when MJ died suddenly to people of certain ages I think.

      People who have crossover appeal to several generations have this impact.

      My mother is in her 70's and doesn't get it. Robin was in my family room tv every week (when I was home anyway) when Mork and Mindy was on the air. The 70's was an important time for situation comedies. Bthe shows are on youtube, after he passed I was watching thesevold episodes and they are still funny imo. I also watched hin in Hook and it really moved me. He was an eternal man/child,

      With a huge heart who went on uso tours and gave his time ans money to charity.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 2 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      I felt terrible too when I learned about his Parkinson's - just terrible. Thanks for stopping by!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Knowing about his unshared Parkinson's diagnosis made me feel worse. I hope he is at peace. This was a good quality hub. Well done.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 2 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi, PurvisBobbi44,

      I agree - very sad for sure. It is still hard to even accept he is no longer with us. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 2 years ago from Florida

      Hi,

      It is sad and it breaks my heart to know anyone who has brought so much joy in entertainment to our lives has an addiction.

      We think their lives are so easy and they are lucky to be an actor in Hollywood. However, luck is not always with them.

      I will forever miss Robin Williams, he was such a joy to watch, and I still have his movies.

      Great hub.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 2 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Very interesting information - thank you for sharing this and for the note!!

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 2 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Good hub..I read that Robin Williams experienced serotonin loss after his open heart surgery..apparently he was not being monitored for signs of depression after the operation, etc.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Thank for sharing, Jean! It is still hard to believe he is no longer with us. So many people seem to be feeling so much loss as a result of his passing. I had no idea he touched so many with his gifts.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello John,

      Thanks for a well written and probing look into the reasons why such a "fun" person could be so sad. I read that Robin was an only child of upper class parents who lived in a 40 room mansion. He was a lonely child, and mostly the servants brought him up. So he responded to this by trying to make them laugh. Apparently he was unloved, and needed attention so badly.

      My beliefs are not orthodox ones, as you know from reading my work, I believe in reincarnation and the laws of karma, and if I was serious about a religion, I'd probably be a Buddhist. But since Robin worked so hard to make people laugh, and was privately so generous, I'm sure this will reflect on him favorably in his next incarnation. It is not so often a person is as gifted as he, and he gave so freely of his gifts, that's why we miss him so much. Take care.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Thanks, Techgran!

      I am glad ou liked the interview. It is uncanny how much his passing has impacted others. My sense is that nobody ever thought someone like Robin WIlliams would ever be sad. I think you have asked a great Socratic type question here by the way!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hi misterhollywood, This was an excellent interview that put perspective on Robin Williams' struggles and death (or RW as he has become throughout the media), and the public shock and grief that has followed his death. Personally, my husband and I have been shocked by the intensity of emotion that we have encountered everywhere we go. I have also noticed that people-- in my neighborhood, in my church community, among my FB friends-- are eager to discuss their own issues with depression, or, like a neighbour, the "secret" struggle they have been living through with a bi-polar son. Williams' death seems like a breakthrough in permission for folks to share what has been happening in their own lives that seemed almost unspeakably shameful before. If someone as likable and seemingly joy-making could struggle and succumb, is this not an appropriate time to address the urgency of the epidemics of addiction, hopelessness, spiritual desolation, mental illness, suicide? I think this is at least partly behind "the entire Robin Williams thing".

      Desperation:

      “It's like practicing pole vaulting your entire life, and then getting to the Olympics and saying, ‘what the hell did I want to jump over this stupid bar for?”

      ― Stephen King, "The Long Walk"

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi, Claire,

      Thanks for sharing. Many people have become hyper-focused (if not obsessed) with the entire Robin Williams thing. I noticed this same phenomenon when Paul Walker died. I think part of this is due to human nature and part of this is due to trying to seek understanding while integrating the meaning of the celeb's passing into our lives. I think you made some very good points here by the way!

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      Claire 3 years ago

      ...but with understanding (whether they are celebrities or acquaintances)?

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      Claire 3 years ago

      "Public service", useful article - thank you.

      I've been a bit concerned with the near-obsession I've been experiencing for over ten days now. I wasn't even "a fan". I liked him and half of his roles -- those I knew about. I am European and live in my birth country. We didn't have Mork and Mindy here! Neither did I have much access to his stand-up comedy except for snippets (Actor's Studio and other interviews). It is ironic and sad to watch it all (or most of it) onine now, after his passing. It all feels all the more precious now that nothing more will come from that fountain. It seems we often take the living for granted and are sometimes quicker to judge and evaluate them, whereas we count the treasure and the loss after their passing. Can we better focus on the living? Not by smothering them with hysterical fannishness (when they are celebrities), but

    • profile image

      TheLawLa 3 years ago

      R.I.P. Robin Williams. When I was first told the news I blew it off and thought it was a hoax right away and I looked it up for myself then found out otherwise. I was in shock right away. I was always cracking up and had a smile on my face when I was watching him in his stand ups, interviews, or movies. It didn't matter what it was he was always saying or doing something funny. My favorite movie from him was probably patch adams or mrs. doubt fire. But he is definitely in a good place up there now and making the other people that is up there with him laugh as he did for us on earth. It's crazy though, how someone that spent his whole career making other people happy was depressed himself.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 3 years ago from Canada

      We'll never forget Robin Williams. Well done discussion of his situation and how his death has touched so many of us.

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      Shorebirdie 3 years ago from San Diego, CA

      I agree with you, the manner of his death does seem to touch us emotionally. The fact that he was a comedian who seemed so happy, but was so sad is also upsetting.

      For me, though I really enjoyed watching Robin Williams over my life and appreciate his work and legacy, I'm not terribly upset or surprised about his death. A lot of comedians have problems with depression. Also, he was not someone I idolized or looked up to, though, like I said, I liked him as a person and for his work. I'm sorry he's gone the way he did.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi, Amiebutchko - thanks so much. I am very much with you on this. Still hard to process his passing for sure!

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 3 years ago from Warwick, NY

      Interesting hub and timely topic. It is very sad and somewhat shocking to have light shine on the fact that so many people relate to issues of depression and addiction. If only we had a better, more clear cut way to identify, acknowledge and help people deal with these demons early on.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      You bet KLW1157 and I am glad you liked. I agree - a sad tragedy for sure. He will be missed!

    • klw1157 profile image

      Kevin Washburn 3 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you for this article. This was such a sad and senseless tragedy that cast a light on a growing problem.

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi,m MCBel,

      Interesting bits of information on Maron. Thanks for commenting and I will need to go back and listen to that interview you mentioned!

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi, MizBejabbers,

      Thanks so much for sharing. I am glad you liked. He was beloved for sure and his unique gifts are so badly needed in today's world. Thanks again!

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      mcbel 3 years ago from New Hampshire

      Great hub. I've heard time and time again that humor is a means of ignoring the bad in life. It's been no surprise that many of comedy's best have dealt with drugs/depression at some point in their careers. Having listened to Marc Maron's podcast for the post four years, its interesting to see the difference between Maron and Williams. Maron was suicidal back in 2009, right before he started his podcast. He is better now than he has been in his entire career, both health wise and professionally. I highly suggest that you all listen to Maron's interview with Robin Williams. It was originally posted in April, 2010, and is over an hour long. Williams spills so much about his life, and during the introduction of the reposted episode Maron talks about how Williams helped him recover from serious depression that was so similar to Williams' own.

      Just trying to spread a little awareness of another story that made Williams such a great human being.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      This is a very well-rounded explanation of why we are sad that Robin Williams died. I think another reason that nobody has brought out in anything I've read on our beloved comedian's death is that we know there will be no more new works coming from him for us to enjoy (with the possible exception of work still in the can). We will miss that. Voted up++

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Thanks, MPG Narratives. He will be missed very much for sure!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Mork and Mindy was a show I remember clearly because in my first job in television I prepared TV show schedules for TV guides in newspapers and magazines. I was so moved when I heard what happened. Robin Williams was an exceptional comedian and actor. So, so sad. May he rest in peace and his family find some solace.

      Great job with this interview piece, misterhollywood. Voted up, etc.

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      PJcooper 3 years ago

      robin williams was a very nice man

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      Samuel Cooper 3 years ago from Swindon,england

      thank you for the interesting information you,ve given me I myself am very sad on his passing

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Hi, everyone,

      Thanks so much for responding to the interview. Robin William's passing continues to just shock people. Reading information around the web today, it seems that people are having a difficult time accepting his passing. So sad.

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      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      This sad and tragic event almost seems like a movie itself......like we just do not want to accept that Robin Williams....of all the celebrities.....would fall to such depths of darkness, to take his own life.

      Yet, anyone who suffers with depression or other forms of mental disorders, know all too well the helplessness and hopelessness that can and does consume it's victims.

      So...so sad. My thoughts and love are with his children especially and all the hundreds of thousands of people who embraced Robin like one of their own.......This is an excellent piece of work, mrhollywood....Thank you......Up++++

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      Rozalyn Winters 3 years ago

      Wow, greeneyed, that is scary. I didn't think about the heart meds. He had an aortic valve replaced. There are some heart and blood pressure meds that can exacerbate depression. Maybe they will find out when the toxicology reports come back in a few weeks if he had been taking any of those.

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      greeneyedblondie 3 years ago

      My mom says he had a massive heart attack several years ago and almost died (I don't remember hearing about that) so it's almost right to assume his doctors gave him high colesteral and high blood pressure medications to make sure it didn't happen again. My mom had to take those for a while and it caused her some serious depression. That's probably what happened to Robin Williams.

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      esavior1972 3 years ago from Hammond, Indiana

      DEATH'S DECEPTION

      The tragic and untimely death of perhaps one of the most prolific and versitle actors, and truly empatetic to the people in his surroundings...who touched more than with his on screen presence...but with the passion in which he expressed himself in any given role or situation.

      But Robin Williams like the millions before him and the millions more that will surely follow...was decived by his own thoughts and the false notion that "at least there will be peace on the other side of death's door" I am not a religious man by nature...but i have also in my life studied the various religons of the world...and I hold close the belife that a person who commits suicide has committed the unpardonable sin...he took that which was not his to take...GOD gave you your first breath and only he has the autority to take your last.

      But death says there is peace on this side. This reminds me of a Bible verse that goes a day with the Lord is as a 1000 years. So shouldn't it stand to reas

    • misterhollywood profile image
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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Thanks, GMWilliams!

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      Grace Marguerite Williams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Beautiful hub in memoriam. RIP my dear Robin Williams.

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      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Thanks Rozalyn. I still find myself in a state of shock today. He will be missed for sure.

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      Rozalyn Winters 3 years ago

      Excellent article and interview. This was an actor who was loved by millions the world over, and the world will be a darker place with his loss. His movies were always "comfort food" (as Dr. Moore put it) for me, as well. He will be missed.