Appreciating Artists While They’re Still Alive

Like everyone else, I am saddened and shocked by the suicide of Robin Williams. This is a death that has disturbed me more than most – not since Heath Ledger have I been this bothered by a celebrity passing.

I never cared much for Heath Ledger before his death. I could barely name any movies he’d been in, and he didn’t strike me as particularly memorable. But I knew that Ledger’s youth and his upcoming performance as the Joker, which was an incredible cap on his short life, was the cause of my unease. I was disturbed at what we DIDN’T get out of Ledger during his life, all the potential Oscar-worthy roles he could have bestowed.

Robin Williams was the opposite. At 63, he entertained the world for 4 decades. My grandparents, my parents, me, and kids younger than me could probably all recognize him. He accomplished all that an actor probably can – securing himself as a legend, winning the approval of the Academy, and dabbling in almost every genre.

So why do I feel so….guilty? Because I’ll admit what I think a lot of us have probably been thinking – we thought Robin Williams was a “has been.” Washed up. No longer funny. No longer a leading man. The 90s were his prime, but his filmography of the past 15 years is a somewhat depressing one, with the most recent being Happy Feet, RV, and Night At The Museum (luckily he costarred in The Butler and August Rush). His last critically acclaimed starring role was in 2002’s “One Hour Photo.” Unlike Jeff Goldblum, who we retain a sense of nostalgia for despite his lack of recent work, I think Robin’s recent slip in quality film gave everyone a negative taste. His last big project – “The Crazy Ones,” on CBS, was cancelled in May.

With that, the world collectively said, “We don’t care about Robin Williams anymore.”

This is devastating to me. It is devastating that he could have recognized that apathy, coupled with his mental illness and substance abuse, and that he took his own life. And it is devastating that I had a small part in it with my own apathy, with my own grimace at his attempted comeback. “Yeah, he was good twenty years ago, but…”

The truth is, the man WAS a genius, til the very day he died. I think there’s probably a link between artistic genius and depression, as someone so above the world as Williams would undoubtedly have a hard time fitting into it. The money doesn’t matter. The fame doesn’t matter. When you don’t ‘think’ like other people do, it’s alienating. You can feel alone in a crowded room of adoring fans. And despite all the praise you may have received decades ago, none of it matters if you’re lonely today.

I’m sorry, Robin. I am so sorry that I took you for granted. The world was better with you in it, and I hope that all artists who suffer for their genius can receive the appreciation we stopped giving you.

For some, art is just a hobby and they have no need for an audience. But many artists thrive on the response of others – their purpose on this planet is intrinsically linked to how profoundly they touch others. So if you take anything out of this…appreciate the geniuses out there. Show them. Tell them. Buy their movies and music instead of pirating. Spread the word about their talent. You never know what a difference it might make.

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