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Robin Williams and the price of genius

Published: August 15, 2014

Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”, said Descartes. We like to believe so. Especially the brainy, creative ones. The thinkers. The idealists. This thought could be translated into political revolutionism or writing or art. The ones who have a lot within themselves cannot contain it. They must share it with the world. Robin Williams was one of these, the extraordinary. He thought. And his thoughts spilled onto the celluloid. He made us laugh for the most part. But those who cared to look beneath the surface cried along with this acting genius. If you looked closely enough, after every joke he cracked in his stand-up performances, he gave a weird smile that reminded one of crying. But in those moments, the camera was mostly focused on the audience in splits.

Robin (and I deliberately choose not to call him Williams here, so that he is not impersonalised) suffered from depression and was identified with bipolar disorder as well as alcohol abuse. With an alcohol hiatus of two decades, his sobriety fell prey to his addictions again.

Robin’s death makes me wonder if ‘thinking’, emoting, feeling and leading life as a more evolved human is worth it. While depression has chemical causes that affect the brain and is genetic a lot of times, there is no denying that certain personality types are more prone to it. It is not necessarily suicidal depression, but one that shows self-destructive tendencies.

Yet, with all the pain they endure they choose to live a difficult existence because one cannot deny one’s calling.

Robin, and all those geniuses who have gone before him, was not so different from us. As his character says to his students in the immortal movie, Dead Poets Society, while talking about boys who attended the same school 60-70 years ago: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilising daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – Carpe – hear it? – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2014.