Who’s Next?

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I found out earlier this evening that apparently Robin Williams has taken his own life. This is particularly upsetting to me in that I have just written a play in which I had hoped he would play Tennessee Williams. “Don’t leave before the miracle,” they always say. His playing the role I wrote for him would have been more of a miracle for me than for him, I realize.
I think for Robin Williams the miracle had already happened and had been happening for a long, long time. I also believe that he was a pretty tortured soul. And before the rounds start whistling into my camp, you should know that, although I am absolutely destroyed by his death, I still do not judge him. I did not live inside Robin Williams’ head. I have no idea what level of suffering he was feeling. Am I pissed? Hell yes– especially because our stories overlap in some ways. Obviously he struggled with depression as I do,  but he was also a recovering alcoholic, something he shared quite openly and, like so many of us, even after twenty years of sobriety he chose to go back and try to make it somehow work again. I choose the word “chose” deliberately because, in my experience, that’s what recovery gives the alcoholic: a choice. When I was out there drinking, I simply had no choice over whether I was going to drink more. If the stuff was inside my body, I was going to try to drink more. That’s just the way I’m built. But when I’d been sober for a little bit, I found that I actually did have a choice. I could decide whether or not to take that first drink– that proverbial “just one drink.” If I was able to avoid that one, I never would get drunk again. But… if I do make that choice, I take the first drink, then the first drink takes me. I have to, at all costs, do whatever it takes to keep from that first drink or drug.
When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I was fucking angry. What a brilliant talent! So many great performances we’ll never get to see. I wrote the disease a letter asking, “Who’s next?” I guess now I know.

I sat on the tenth row and watched Robin Williams give a stunning performance in the title role of Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo on Broadway. It really was a great performance in its own right but what struck me especially is that Mr. Williams wasn’t playing for laughs– even though the audience seem oh-so-ready to give them to him because he was, after all, funny man Robin Williams, right? He could deliver the most serious line, not intending to garner laughs, and this stupid audience would erupt in laughter as if he’d just said, “Nanu-nanu” to one of Hussein sons! I’ve spent my fair share of time on that side of the footlights as well and let me tell you, getting laughter from an audience is addictive! For an admitted addict like Robin Williams, he showed immeasurable restraint and professionalism. I wanted to tell him that myself. I had wanted to wait for when I delivered him the script to Lilac and Liquor. I shouldn’t have waited. Now I’ll never have the chance.

He sat at the next table when I was at Sean Penn’s charity benefit for Haiti in San Francisco. At some point in the evening, someone shouted, “Give the mic to Robin!” and the group of would-be philanthropists roared in agreement. I was close enough to him to see he really didn’t want to. He looked tired. But he did take the mic nonetheless and for the next half hour he brought out those familiar voices those of us who’ve watched his career from the beginning have come to know so well. To be honest, I’ve grown weary of some of those voices. I never really have to hear another straight man do their “gay man voice.”  That would be okay. The caricature is painful. The laughs it elicits are more painful. Thing is, I could tell he was pretty tired of those voices too. But he trudged forward, like the seasoned performer he was. “Was.” It really hurts me to have to use the past tense when talking about someone I’d hope we’d have a bit longer. But like I said, I don’t judge him. Few things are as painful as being expected to make people laugh when you don’t feel like laughing yourself. I just wish he’d been able to stick it out a bit longer– to deal with the depression, to continue to do the work it takes to stay sober.
Goodbye, Mr. Williams. I truly hope you found the peace you seemed to lack.
And once more, fuck you Addiction! You’ve robbed me personally and you rob us all so often and of so much. Who’s next? Who’s next?


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