I Had a Brief Encounter With Robin Williams Once

I was slinging books at the Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center, and we got pretty used to celebrities coming in there. Most were cordial but curt. Some were mean, awful people. Some were incredibly cool -- I'd never been a fan of Howard Stern's radio show, but I'm a tremendous fan of the man after chatting about French bulldogs with him for 45 minutes.

Almost all of those interactions took place on the ground floor, right near one of the doors or information desks. Celebrities aren't generally the types to linger in the stacks. But that's exactly where I found Robin Williams one day, loitering in the fiction section for over an hour, never picking up a single book.

The first thing I remember is how hairy he was. I'm sorry, I know that's not important, but if you've ever met him you know it's the first thing you notice.

The second thing I realized was that he was hanging out for so long, slightly hidden by bookshelves, because he was simultaneously hoping people would recognize him and dreading that they might.

I introduced myself and told him how much a few of his roles meant to me (I was college-aged in Boston when Good Will Hunting came out, an aspiring writer in high school when Dead Poets Society debuted) and he seemed genuinely appreciative when he shook my hand. He didn't really know what to say -- not because he was blown away by having earned a bookseller's respect or because he wasn't used to adoring fans, of course, but because, as I noticed then, he seemed shy and a bit awkward. I remember thinking what a disconnect it was, seeing this bigger-than-life presence (Doubtfire, Mork, "Hark, the moon like a testicle hangs low in the sky") hiding among bookshelves that towered over him.

This all came back to me one year ago, when we learned we had lost him, of course. The news was disheartening, but I have tried to take two important lessons from it. Firstly, we must remember we don't know celebrities. Though we think we have seen them we have not; we've seen only their product. Secondly, no amount of wealth, celebrity or adulation mitigates depression. So often we hear people convincing themselves that if they just had enough money, a spouse to love them or a more fulfilling career they'd be fine. I know I've thought that way before myself. It isn't true. Depression doesn't give a rat's ass about any of that stuff. In fact, it's difficult to imagine how deflating it must be to achieve so much and still be unhappy. It almost seems worse.

The only way to address depression effectively is head on.

It afflicts so many of us, yet cunningly makes all of its victims feel like they are alone in the fight. If you're feeling alone, please reach out to a friend or to 1-800-273-TALK.