Robin Williams "has been battling severe depression," his publicist Mara Buxbaum said in a statement. Suspected of taking his own life on Monday at his home in Marin County, California, Mr. Williams had recently been back in rehab, battling addiction for decades. Williams has been quoted as saying "it waits," the addiction that is, but this time around his demons had a dark companion.
There is nothing that prepares a man for open heart surgery and what awaits afterwards. I obviously have no idea about Mr. Williams's fight after his procedure, which was a success. However, I have seen what the surgery can do to a man without any mental health issues such as the disease of alcoholism and cocaine addictions. The transformation is epic for some after this life saving surgery, but the physical and emotional carnage it causes is rarely discussed. When it's life or death it hardly seems pertinent to talk about how you're going to feel afterward.
The man I saw up close and personal after open heart surgery was older than Robin Williams, though both had successful results. Then it set in, like a dense fog with the weight of a roof, overwhelming depression that changed him to make him unrecognizable at times. Dr. Drew Pinsky has been talking eloquently about this on CNN, as everyone grasps to deal with the vacuum of such a creative lightning bolt we've all been watching for so many decades. Dr. Drew emphasizing the cracking open of a chest and what that unleashes. The person I knew intimately that faced this surgery had no choice, because it's not elective surgery, life depending on it. Nobody warned him what awaited him on the other side.
Deep, deadly depression is like nothing else, but when it hits men later in life it is something that lands with such ferocity it stuns, leaving the person emotionally paralyzed, watching life go on around him. Add addiction to this and it's incomprehensible to me how anyone survives the combination.
All I can see is Robin Williams in The Birdcage, riffing through the choreographers that will make up "Starina's" number. "Fosse, Fosse, Fosse, Martha Graham, Martha Graham, ...Madonna, Madonna, Madonna..." Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, the teacher in Dead Poets Society, both films landing Williams Oscar nominations. All of it starting at Julliard, then Mork and Mindy that hit the television audience like a meteor, leaving this insane ball of energy before us doing the most outlandish things. Winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting and off he went, his last television role on the CBS comedy The Crazy Ones we never missed.
There is a little madness that walks with anyone who is creative. The stress of performing at the level of Robin Williams, working your craft, your brain, always mining what can top your last performance, it's the highest of wire acts that the least imbalance can shake. "It waits," Williams said, and he wasn't talking about his muse, which creative artists have in our ear, guiding. What Robin Williams suffered was a haunting, which the depression magnified, at least that's what I think could have happened, having watched it. Knowing a bit about creative crazy.
Robin Williams had a remarkable career and life. We are in these bodies that inevitably fail us. The mind a cavernous place of shadows and light where thoughts get lost, especially when the body you're in has broken down at its heart center.
Now we have a man who was saved by the surgery, but who evidently succumbed to the depression and the other assaults that can besiege a person with addictions. We need to talk about it more, educate people who are walking into life saving heart procedures what side effects can await that will blindside those not warned.
What a life Robin Williams led. We should all be grateful he fought so hard to remain inside the eye of his life's hurricane for so long. There won't be a talent like him again. He left it all on planet earth during his tour.
Taylor Marsh is the author of the new book The Sexual Education of a Beauty Queen -- Relationship Secrets From the Trenches.