Robin Williams Joins Comedy Giants Who Died Too Soon

Robin Williams Dead Obit
Fred Duval/FilmMagic

Robin Williams was a whirling dervish – so fast, so funny, seemingly the life of any party. When he turned up on talkshows, the hosts always seemed to essentially take the night off, realizing that with a talent like that, all one really needed to do was wind him up and let him go.

The comic actor’s death of a reported suicide thus feels doubly unsettling, another reminder that the laughter elicited by some of our finest clowns often comes at an exorbitant personal price.

PHOTOS: Robin Williams’ Most Memorable Moments

Williams is hardly the first comedian (and he was more than that, but for the purposes of this discussion, the description fits) to be plagued by self-destructive demons. Indeed, at times it has seemed through the years that the brighter the comedic light, the more tortured and troubled they can be when the cameras stop rolling.

The tragedies garner an inordinate amount of attention — especially now, in a media era increasingly defined by TMZ — but the list of comics who have succumbed to drugs alone is dishearteningly long. There was Lenny Bruce in the 1960s, John Belushi in the ‘80s, Chris Farley in the ‘90s – the last two, given their similar career paths, almost feeling like an eerie instant replay for the generations that grew up with them. Richard Pryor survived into his 60s, but the impact of drug abuse on his life and career is well documented.

Obviously, the entertainment industry has produced more than its share of similar stories, and they haven’t been confined to comedy. Actors and rock stars have certainly lost their share.

But comedy might be unique in the personal nature of the exercise, especially in stand-up, where there is nothing but the performer and a microphone. Few artists are as exposed, or as solitary in pursuing their craft.

Williams had demonstrated himself to be a versatile actor, though some of his better remembered roles – “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” even as the genie in the animated “Aladdin” – traded off his rat-a-tat patter and improvisational genius. The same held true for his most recent vehicle, the CBS sitcom “The Crazy Ones,” which featured outtakes at the end of every episode reminding us how hard it must have been to maintain a straight face when working alongside him.

Williams grew up admiring Jonathan Winters, who established the template for the freewheeling wackiness Williams came to embody. The two worked together on Williams’ star-making series “Mork & Mindy,” and in an appreciation he wrote for the New York Times, Williams talked about how Winters — who he referred to as his “Comedy Buddha” — had wrestled with his own emotional struggles.

But Winters lived to be 87. And while Williams leaves behind no shortage of material to appreciate, for anyone who admires comedy and his unique gifts, it’s hard not to feel that we’ve been cheated, once again, out of a whole lot of promising years — and laughter.

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  1. Robert Morgan says:

    What is TMZ? A cardinal rule of good writing is that one doesn’t use initialisms and acronyms without explaining what they stand for, especially to a general audience.

  2. funfun says:

    John Candy went way too soon. I didn’t see him mentioned here. He was always funny and a talented actor. He was so lovable and is still missed.

  3. Wendy says:

    The world will never be the same or laugh as much or as hard as it once did now that he is gone. No one will ever compare to all that he was and could do in comedy and in acting. God bless his soul.

  4. Terry Ward says:

    10 people visited “the suicide page” (may it have been of some help) from a link i posted here in comments. don’t know where that link went, so reposting, “the suicide page”

  5. goldenrox says:

    Reblogged this on Roxy G's A Minute Please and commented:
    Mine and my husband’s favorite comedian. There are no words to express the sense of loss we feel about this wonderful man. The world was a better place for him living in it, particularly during a time that we have film and video, so he may continue to live on, and our children’s children will know the pure genius that was Robin Williams.

  6. big daddy D says:

    Not a giant, but a great comedian nonetheless.. Greg Geraldo. I think he suffered from depression as well.

  7. Joana de Oliveira says:

    May his family find peace……. May all people see that the deep fulfilling happiness,which is the only genuine joy, comes from seeking God and that they must balance their lives – physically and spiritually.

  8. Larry Y. says:

    Don’t forget Phil Hartman, he went too soon as well.

  9. says:

    A big heart, mind, and soul with a genuine had been lost. Robin William, you are definitely will be miss.

  10. Rich Altman says:

    Taking nothing away from the tragedy at hand which is grievous and gargantuan, when speaking of comic giants lost too soon one cannot overlook the premature loss of Lou Costello and Jerome “Curly” Howard. They started in an era when “standup” meant Vaudville and both transitioned into film industry comedy superstars…Costello with master straightman Bud Abbott and “Curly” with his brother Moe and Larry Fine (as arguably the three most memorable and enduring “Stooges”). As Robin WIlliams and I are about the same age, I suspect he too cut his comic teeth watching these icons from another comic era and laughing his ass off.

  11. big daddy D says:

    Mitch Hedberg-OD..another loss. RIP

  12. Hamed kibria says:

    feel shattered. The world could not give Robbin Williams back what he has given to people! Who made millions laugh, share happiness – has took his own life! How painful it is to live life with remarkable talent when it becomes a burden !
    …..started the morning with these thought.

  13. linne boehm says:

    i am saddened at robin Williams death I loved him as mork from ork

  14. Jane says:

    I agree with you, suicide is the result of not thinking of others..however…the saddest part about that is those with depression, who resort to this end, or “method of treatment” if you will, are so over come that they can not think of others at the time. I have lived with depression in my family since I was born, and it is debilitating, and most often hidden. And surely devastating to those left behind.

    The world needs to wake up..there is a stigma attached to mental illness, it is not any more chosen a disease than cancer is chosen, and even worse, to depression which the majority of people think can be “snapped out of”.. It doesn’t show, leaves no visible scars….it can be well hidden. They tell people if you have symptoms of depression to see your Dr…well, people with depression most often CAN’T. And yet big pharma keeps putting out medications/drugs, that have side affects of depression and even suicide… Drug and alcohol abuse is MOST often coupled with depression..everyone says he never talked about it..he often did he say his alcohol and drug use was “his escape”…wanting to “shut down and close off”..that’s depression…too bad it wasn’t treated..people were too busy laughing…

  15. Terry Ward says:

    he himself becomes a dead poet

  16. Our Hearts are very saddened for the loss of a friend..I & my daughter grew up with Robin Williams..He was one of our very favorites. Im so sorry for the family and Sorry he lost his battle with his Demons..He will live on in the hearts of everyone who has or will-in the future-see him..He made me smile,laugh and cry..Such a super star talent..A dear Dear man. R.I.P. Mr. williams we will never forget <3

  17. MackMan says:

    He was great and WIll be missed

  18. Amanda Noyce says:

    i am very saddened by the news. Robin was an awesome actor and will be sadly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and close friends.

  19. Robin Williams was an awesome actor and great person he will be missed by family, friends and fans.

  20. Norman Stanley says:

    R.I.P Robin you were great

  21. Regina says:

    Rip Robin Williams, u made me laugh

  22. Nancy Burbank Burbank says:

    Thank you for your years of laughter. Will be missed by millions

  23. Aida Takla says:

    Very sad departure
    Yet he will still be with us forever

  24. Jane says:

    I am very saddened by our loss. Depression is a serious, debilitating disease. Please, if the time comes, and sadly it most likely will, you write of losses of this kind, please mention Andy Kaufman…another one lost way too soon..

  25. AA says:

    His art transcended language and geography. He made the world laugh little more while he was here. Rest in Peace.

  26. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    Jonathan Winters was in and out of State Hospitals. He made a career of acting crazy, sometimes folding over to real life. Robin seems to have taken on that role although Williams never had a documented medical ljfe of mental illness. Winters never had the pressures of today biz and buz. But Winters was always rumored to be nuts, would appear on The Tonight Show and prove everyone right! Robin’s act I felt carried him places probably he did not want to go in real life. He was the funniest man alive but then there was that question I would ask, is this really an act? What a tragic loss.. my condolences in Northern California to all Family and Friends. JEV

  27. Richard Jeni, seven years ago, was another comedic genius who took his own life. It is so sad that people that can bring such joy suffered so much internal pain. R.I.P., Robin. :(

  28. Tractornuts says:

    Rather Ironic Robin Williams Discovered John Belushi, Overdosed.

  29. S Hay says:

    We’ll never see the likes of Robin Williams – among the last of the greatest comedians ever. There isn’t one person today who comes close, no one. It’s a sad day in America for the loss of a legend, comic genius and amazing actor.

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