The tragic death of mega-watt celebrity Robin Williams has sent shock waves around the world. Suddenly, a bright spotlight is being shown on the topic of depression, revealing a truer, perhaps more disturbing reality of an insidious mental health problem that is not often discussed and widely misunderstood.
As the public continues to process the magnitude of this loss, we need to remember that Williams was not the first comedian to struggle with a mood disorder or an addiction. In fact, when we look back, there have been several in Hollywood who have appeared to be outwardly funny, but all the while, hidden from us, deeply sad inside.
This comedian is known worldwide for his roles in such films as Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty. What he is not commonly known for however, are his struggles with depression. The comic actor revealed in a Sun article that he has lived with depression for some time and that he went through a kind of evolution as he came to terms with his feelings of sadness.
A memorable and hilarious comedian to be sure that you might recall from Saturday Night Live. It is thought that Chris Farley suffered from depression and may have used substances to medicate deep pain. Farley was found dead in 1997 in an apartment by his brother.
The corner revealed after the autopsy that he died from a cocaine and morphine overdose. Farley long carried a copy of the poem called “A Clown’s Prayer” in his wallet. It was printed on the back of his funeral program. It reads in part, “As I stumble through this life, help me create more laughter than tears, dispense more happiness than gloom, spread more cheer than despair.”
Who can forget this super funny comedian? Like Farley, he too was on Saturday Night Live. The actor was considered to be a major celebrity after starring in such memorable flicks like The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon’s Animal House. Belushi is known to have struggled with substance abuse, which some think he may have used to self-medicate feelings of sadness.
He was found dead in 1982 in Hollywood, California. The cause of death was attributed to a Speedball, which is a combination of heroin and cocaine.
There are other comedians who have come public with their depression, including Chevy Chase, Richard Prior and Dave Chappelle to name just a few.
Comedians and pain
One of the things that can make a comedian so funny relates to a special “chip” they have, which gives them the unique ability to be in touch with their emotions – emotions that can often be intense.
It is what gives them such powerful insight into the human condition and in many ways informs their comedic bent.
There is a delicate tightrope to be walked for such gifted actors because these individuals know all too well how fragile and short lived a state of happiness can be. This insight is self-contrasted only by their crushing sense of empty darkness.
You see, one cannot truly create the healing power of joyful laughter unless they walk through profound pain of sadness, which is often measured in tears.
It is a difficult tightrope indeed.
Comedic Mask of Depression
When we see a comedian who has the ability to make us laugh, particularly about topics which may be uncomfortable, we need to remember these folks are human.
We should be careful not to engage in main actor/role confusion, which is the phenomenon of fans confusing a star’s character role (or roles) with their off-camera personality.
Some comedians have learned to wear a kind of comedic mask, which outwardly projects a jovial public persona, much like the characters they have played, but conceals a sadder, more vulnerable self.
I call this the comedic mask of depression.
As John Grohol shared in his blog about the passing of Robin Williams, depression can tell lies. It can tell lies outwardly and perhaps more troubling, it can tell lies inwardly.
Let’s all make it all of our goal to learn more about depression and do our part to remove the stigmas connected to mental health conditions.
RIP Robin Williams.
If you want to learn more about depression, please learn consider reading this article. If you are concerned that you may hurt yourself, please call 800-273-TALK, or one of these numbers here for international readers (choose your country from the drop-down list).
Photo Credit: Jay Paul Photography/Getty Images
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Last reviewed: 3 Sep 2014