The death of Robin Williams was sad and sobering. As my friend, Erika, said, it was like “Elvis had died.”
In the comedy/acting world, she was right. Most people reading this blog would love to have a career like his, including myself. And most people reading this blog, including myself, would think having a career like Robin Williams’ would bring them ever-lasting happiness.
Fame has always been my higher power. I used to get a contact high when I was around famous people. I would fantasize that if only I was famous, I would be happy, all my problems would go away, and I would finally I feel comfortable in my own skin. I am told it does not work that way.
I don’t know when doing improv for me went from “Wow, this is the most fun I have ever had in my life,” to “I’ve got to make it. I’ve got to be famous.” It really doesn’t matter. It has plagued me my whole career. It has robbed me of my joy and has given me countless days of comparing myself to others and coming up short. It always cheapens my accomplishments.
I am a slow learner, but with the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and now Robin Williams, I am slowly getting it that being famous doesn’t make you happy.
I will name drop, for the sake of making a point. I started out with Chris Farley at iO-Chicago in the ’80s. We all knew he was going to be a star. He was like a rocket ship and could not be stopped. I was jealous, insanely jealous.
They are many times I would have gladly traded my life for his, because I did not value my own. Even when he died and my wise friends said, “He’s dead and you are still alive,” I did not get it. All I could see was that he had made it and I had not.
Williams suffered from depression and struggled with addiction, two things I can relate to. Addiction and depression are identical twins: it’s hard to tell them apart. They are both diseases, serious deadly diseases that leave you with a gaping hole inside that cannot be filled with anything outside of yourself — not awards, not adulation, not $20 million and a big movie part. In some cases, people get help and they are able to deal with their depression and addiction. And sometimes they don’t.
The thing that sucks about these diseases is that one of the symptoms is telling yourself that you don’t deserve/don’t want/don’t need help, making it almost impossible to get better. And if you don’t get help, these diseases will kill you.
I don’t have any answers here. All I know is the older I get, the clearer I can see that fame will not keep me alive.