Tag Archives: robin williams

To be or not to be: pondering suicide

Suicide freaks us out.

It does so because most of us know someone who has attempted suicide or succumbed to it. Many of us have experienced depression or have loved ones who struggle with it. 

It especially freaks us out to see someone as apparently happy and successful as Robin Williams take his life. It’s sad and shocking. It hurts, and comfort is hard to find. 

My father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning when he was 48 and I was 14. My brother, who dragged my dad from the garage that day, shot himself in the head at age 33. Three close friends have died by their own hands, losses that weigh heavily because they occurred more recently.

There are many things to clean up in the aftermath of a suicide, from the physical premises to the emotional mess. Days of shock give way to questions, introspection, guilt, sometimes shame or blame. We’ve seen it played out in the American media in the past few weeks.

My mother felt guilty for our family’s collapse, yet she had struggled to keep a sick husband and three children afloat with little income. There was mental illness in the family tree and both my father and brother suffered for a long time from a host of burdens, all exacerbated by substance abuse. There were several “interventions” with them that didn’t work.

As a girl, I had no idea what to do about my father, who suffered a rapid mental and physical deterioration from alcoholism. Telling him I loved him didn’t help. As a young woman, I steered clear of my brother because his drug use (booze and cocaine) scared the hell out of me. I was always worried he would hurt someone. It turns out he only hurt himself.

I’ve had decades to ponder these events and what I have learned is neither new nor comforting: Despair can be overwhelming and you can’t always help people. You should certainly try, but sometimes people can’t be helped. There are so many things in our lives that screw us up and drag us down, and some of us just don’t make it. 

For more helpful advice, I think An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison are the smartest, most compassionate books about suicide. Jamison is a professor of psychiatry who lives with bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide. As such, her writing is informed by professional expertise and personal experience. She is someone who has been there and really understands the pain and all the issues around suicide.

Thinking about Robin Williams, I remembered a wonderful passage in a biography of Virginia Woolf. One of the most important writers of the 20th century, Woolf was dogged by mental illness her whole life and killed herself at age 59.

In most writing about her, Woolf is depicted as a tragic figure, often defined by her suicide. Author James King said the fact that Woolf achieved the literary success and philosophical influence she did while struggling with mental and emotional illness for 59 years “constitutes another kind of greatness.”

I love that he recognized her survival as an achievement in itself, and I think we should celebrate Williams in the same way. What fortitude he had to sustain those hilarious comedy routines and to remain active and creative as long as he did! How blessed we were by his presence.

Entertainment briefs: Woo-hoo, The Simpsons marathon and more …


FXX celebrates Simpsons syndication with 12-day binge-watch marathon

A 12-day marathon of The Simpsons begins on FXX at 9 a.m. on Thurs., Aug. 21, with the episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” The marathon goes on to include all 25 seasons, 552 episodes and one feature-length movie at 10:59 p.m. on Sept. 1, making it the longest Simpsons marathon ever. 

The Simpsons marathon celebrates FXX’s acquisition of the syndication rights to the cartoon series, which the network bought last year in what was called the “biggest off-network deal ever,” according to Rolling Stone. RS also reported that FXX will launch SimpsonsWorld, which will give authenticated users access to every episode on their computers, smartphones, tablets and similar devices.

Robin Williams’ daughter bullied off social media after father’s death

Robin Williams’ daughter abandoned her social media accounts following what she called “cruel and unnecessary” messages after her father’s death. 

Zelda Williams, 25, wrote that she was stepping away from Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram “for a good long time, maybe forever” after at least two users posted disturbing images and verbal attacks.

Well-wishers and fans online rallied to Zelda Williams’ defense, and the accounts of both alleged bullies were suspended. Facebook, which owns Instagram, said the photos violated its policies and were “being actively flagged and removed across both platforms as they pop up,” while Twitter went further, suspending a number of accounts and announcing an expansion of policies to support family members of deceased users.

Bon Iver becomes Ephasis

Wisconsin native Justin Vernon is best known by the moniker of Bon Iver, the name of the indie folk band that propelled him to popularity. But his new gig finds him swapping names once again.

For the new indie hip-hop supergroup Jason Feathers, Vernon will be taking on the alter ego of Ephasis, a “heavily-seasoned guitar-crooning lost-cowboy,” according to a news release issued by the group to promote its new album De Oro. Ephasis will be performing in the group alongside the band’s namesake “Jason Feathers aka Creflo” (actually Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis) and drummer/piano man “Toothpick” (fellow Bon Iver musician S. Carey).

Sobelman’s unveils biggest Bloody Mary yet, complete with fried chicken

Sobelman’s Pub & Grill has created some pretty impressive bloody marys — starting with the “Bloody Masterpiece,” a Bloody crowned with a mini cheeseburger. But the latest Frankenstein creation takes the cake. The “Chicken Fried Bloody Beast” consists of a jug-sized bloody mary, with garnishes including celery, sausages, bacon-wrapped jalapeño cheeseballs and an entire fried chicken. Patrons willing to effectively risk their lives consuming the creation can purchase one for $50, with $5 going to Hunger Task Force.

Allison Williams headed skyward as NBC’s Peter Pan

NBC has picked its Peter Pan: high-flying Girls star Allison Williams. The network announced Williams will play the boy who refused to grow up in Peter Pan Live!, airing Dec. 4. The 26-year-old actor-comedian plays Marnie Michaels on HBO’s Girls, as well as guest roles on The Mindy Project and The League, and is the daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams. “I have wanted to play Peter Pan since I was about 3 years old, so this is a dream come true,” said Williams, adding, “What could go wrong in a live televised production with simultaneous flying, sword fighting and singing?”

NBC recently announced that Oscar winner Christopher Walken will play the villainous pirate Captain Hook.

The musical version of Peter Pan has a long tradition on NBC. It opened on Broadway in 1954, starring Mary Martin as Pan and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in a pair of Tony Award-winning performances. They reprised those roles in two live telecasts on NBC in 1955 and 1956, followed by a videotaped production in 1960. Peter Pan Live! will serve as a follow-up to NBC’s live version of The Sound of Music last year, featuring Carrie Underwood.

Gaga on Bennett duet CD: Jazz comes easier than Pop

Lady Gaga is a bona fide pop star, but the singer says recording jazz music is the easier experience. Gaga has spent two years recording an album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett called Cheek to Cheek, to be released Sept. 23. “I’ve sung jazz since I was 13 years old, which is kind of like my little secret that Tony found out,” Gaga said in an interview. “So this is almost easier for me than anything else.”

Gaga made the comments with Bennett by her side ahead of the duo’s taped performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City for PBS, which will air in the fall. 

The album’s first single is a cover of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” Other selections on Cheek to Cheek include “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Lush Life” and the title track. This will be Gaga’s first LP release since last year’s Artpop, and Bennett’s first since Viva Duets, a collaborative Latin album he released in 2012.

‘Life Performance’ benefits AIDS group

AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin presents “Life Performance: Acts Against AIDS” at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts in Milwaukee.

The event features performing artists recognizing ARCW’s 30-year fight against AIDS in Wisconsin. Performers include Valerie Harmon and David Hovhannisyan of the Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Norman Moses, First Stage Children’s Theater, mezzo-soprano Leslie Fitzwater and baritone Kurt Ollmann, Jeffrey Peterson and Paula Foley Tillen on piano and the One Voice Community Choir.

For more, go to ticketing.wilson-center.com.

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Robin Williams’ daughter quits Twitter after “cruel” messages about father’s death

Robin Williams’ daughter has abandoned her online social media accounts in disgust following what she called “cruel and unnecessary” messages following her father’s death, a move that has prompted Twitter to explore how it handles such situations.

Zelda Williams, 25, wrote that she was stepping away from her Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram accounts “for a good long time, maybe forever.”

The move came after at least two users upset the grieving actress by sending disturbing images and verbal attacks. In one of her last tweets on Tuesday night, Williams asked fellow users to report her alleged tormentors to Twitter managers. “I’m shaking,” she wrote. One of the images was a Photoshopped image of Robin Williams purporting to be his corpse.

Well-wishers and fans online quickly rallied to Zelda Williams’ defense, and the accounts of both alleged bullies were suspended by Wednesday. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said the photo violated its policy and was “being actively flagged and removed across both platforms as it pops up.”

Twitter went further. “We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter,” Del Harvey, who heads Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users.”

Last summer, Twitter introduced a one-click button to report abuse and updated its rules to clarify that it will not tolerate abusive behavior.

Zelda Williams also alluded on Instagram to users being hateful following her father’s suicide: “In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.”

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Comic actor Robin Williams dead at 63

Robin Williams, the Academy Award-winning comedian and actor who delighted generations of audiences with his rapid-paced wit and eye for roles that tugged the heartstrings as much as the funny bone, died Monday at his San Francisco Bay area home, of an apparent suicide. He was 63.

Multiple news outlets reported the death Monday afternoon, after reports from the Marin County sheriff’s office revealed the actor had been found unresponsive, and a preliminary investigation suggests a possible cause of death of suicide due to asphyxia. 

Williams had been open about his struggles with drugs and alcohol earlier in his career, as well as his battle with depression. The actor had recently checked into a rehab center for long-term sobriety, and press representatives have reported the actor was grappling with severe depression at the time of his death.

Williams leaves behind three children from previous marriages, including 25-year-old actor Zelda Williams, and his wife Susan Schneider, who said in a statement Monday that: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. … It is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

To pick a signature role for Williams would be a tough proposition. Television roles bookended his career; he rose to fame as the titular alien on Mork and Mindy in the late ’70s, and recently played the patriarch of an unorthodox ad agency in CBS’ The Crazy Ones, cancelled this spring after a single season. But he’s best known for the variety of starring roles he played on film throughout his life: an inspirational teacher in Dead Poets Society, the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, the incomparable Mrs. Doubtfire, a loving father and drag club owner in The Birdcage, Matt Damon’s therapist and mentor in Good Will Hunting, and Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum franchise, set to release its third installment this Christmas.

Innumerable celebrities expressed their condolences alongside fans through social media, many sharing stories of their encounters with Williams throughout their careers. Shrines to the actor are also popping up across the country, with the most noteworthy built around a bench where a pivotal scene from Good Will Hunting was filmed.

For more information on suicide prevention resources in Wisconsin, click here.