Robin Williams 1951-2014

The suicide of Robin Williams is a chilling reminder of what’s important in life and what’s not. The only time I ever saw Williams in person was in Florence a decade ago. He was ambling alone along Via dei Calzaiuoli, one of the pedestrian streets in the city’s historic centre, carrying a large Dolce & Gabbana shopping bag. Despite dark glasses and a stubble beard, he was instantly recognizable. People were gawking at him and popping out of shops for a better look.

His body language was fascinating. His eyes were fixed on the pavement two metres ahead. Every once in a while, he’d veer toward a shop and peer intently in the window, then resume the same slow pace. He was smirking, as if trying out jokes in his head. While he didn’t seem to be seeking recognition, if someone stopped him to say hello or take a photo, he was happy to oblige.

It struck me that Williams was afraid to make eye contact in case that individual didn’t know who he was or couldn’t remember his name and had to ask. What a catastrophe that would be for a needy comic who requires constant feeding and attention. The way Williams was comporting himself was safe. If a stranger was flummoxed, it didn’t matter, because Williams was unaware. He was lonely but would be satisfied by nothing less than adulation. 

Janis Joplin suffered similarly. She used to complain that she spent the evening with 10,000 fans at a concert and then passed the night alone in her hotel. She died of a drug overdose in her search for happiness. Whether it’s Williams, Joplin or Philip Seymour Hoffman, the message is the same. Fame isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. 

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