We need love, compassion and understanding.

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 14, 2014

In the past week I’ve been asked if I knew Robin Williams.
Did I work with him? Yes. Have I been to his home for a meal? Yes. Bowling? Yes. Did I drop him off at places in my old, banger, car, so he wouldn’t be followed and recognized? Yes.
But did I know him? No. I only sort of superficially knew the guy who was great friends with my then boyfriend, Rick, a brilliant improvisor who Robin often asked to share the stage, and who always warmly said, “Hi, Pammy,” at the Improv in West Hollywood. He was white-hot, a global star, always kind and approachable to fans. 
I have a rather treasured photograph that shows a magical night in the late 1980s including Robin, myself, Jonathan Winters, and Improv Comedy Club owner, Mark Anderson. It was the San Diego Improv’s ‘Grand Opening’ and I had been asked to drive down and open this show destined to blow the roof off the joint with much fanfare and press coverage. The photographer’s finger snapped a moment which would freeze all of us standing together at the evening’s end, laughing at something Jonathan, naturally, had said- I can’t remember what- and radiating energy, joy, strength and confidence. 
Life would always be this way, it seemed. Whatever being offered behind a lone mic-stand and a single spot light was happily received and ready for more, more, more.
After Robin’s death, I pulled out this same photograph and found it nothing less than heartbreaking. Looking from left to right, there is Mark Anderson, in his mid 30s, handsome in black tie and delighted with the success of the evening, portraying not an inkling that by the age of 60, he would be found, having taken his own life, in an overturned hotel room, engulfed in both paranoia and depression. Robin, also appearing quietly confident, hands shoved into his pockets, wears the impish smile we all know so well, and a grinning Jonathan, having found the way through the other side of the darkness that found him twice institutionalized, decades earlier, for both ‘nervous breakdowns’ and bi-polar disorder.
There seems to be a theory tossed around that all comedians come from a troubled background and seek solace on the stage. You know, the whole ‘tears of a clown,’ thing. I’m not so sure about that.
Nearly 70 percent of this country receive prescribed medication. And the second most common prescription is for anti-depressants. Fully 13 percent of Americans have been diagnosed and take these drugs.
We’re talking millions of people. Millions. Robin, Jonathan and Mark, as well as the other dazzling comedic genius, Richard Jeni, who also took his own life, were simply four who shared this disorder. It is a bleakness, and notoriously, in the case of Robin, exacerbated by heart surgery, that is as powerful as it is suffocating. A riptide of despair that leaves its victim often too tired, too weak to keep swimming against. Nothing matters. Nothing.
In short, collectively, we are not a healthy society, either physically or emotionally. We need help. We need love, compassion and understanding. We need guidance and services and the funding to pay for them.
So speaking for myself, I won’t say that all comedians come from terrible backgrounds with tortured souls. But what I will say is that a roomful of laughing people, responding with joyful acceptance, has a way of making you feel far more confident than you are in ‘real life.’

Whatever that is.

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