Robin Williams died today; news reports are indicating that it was a suicide. Robin was one of our clients when I worked at A Bicycle Odyssey in Sausalito from 1994-2001. He was a great client for the shop.
While Robin was often “on” when other customers were around, the time he spent at the shop after closing included some of the most enjoyable conversations about bicycles and movies I’ve ever had. Robin had a genuine love of all things bike, and I think he really appreciated the way that we treated him as bike rider, and not as a celebrity … especially when he was talking about something he loved.
However brief our encounters were, I was always impressed by the man and his genuine love of bicycles, from the first time I met him at City Cycle in SF while reassembling one of my bikes (I rented a travel case, and left the bike packed until I could return the case), to all the times he came in to the Odyssey … he was a genuinely good person, and I cherish the conversations we had.
One of my fondest memories was shortly after he won his Oscar in 1998. I was behind the counter chatting with him while Tony (the shop owner), Tim, and Shane (the mechanics) were working on one of his bikes … I asked him, Oscar aside, which of his movies meant the most to him; he gave me three:
1) Awakenings, for the opportunity to work with Robert De Niro. De Niro is such a consummate method actor; the scene where Robin’s character was tossing a ball at De Niro, and it bounces off him a couple of times before he catches it. Robin didn’t know De Niro was going to catch the ball at that particular moment, so the look of surprise on Robin’s face in the film was genuine.
2) The Fisher King, for the opportunity to really work with director Terry Gilliam (ex-Monty Python, also director of Brazil). Sure, Robin had a small but memorable role in Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen a few years before, but The Fisher King was more of a star role really giving the two men the time to work with each other.
3) Aladdin; Robin would occasionally sneak into some of the theatres in San Francisco showing the film after it was released. A lot of the things the genie said were subtle adult humor, so you’d have kids laughing at the genie’s antics, and parents laughing at things that their children weren’t old enough to catch.
I’ll also never forget the teasing I got from him when he found out I was moving to Utah from the Bay Area; my own personal Robin Williams riff … the world lost a great man when he died.
While I don’t always talk about it (at least not out loud), I have battled depression for most of my life, and I’ve made no secret that the past few months have been pretty rough. Chase’s death this past spring, even though it was accidental, triggered a lot of of the old anxieties and fears and sadness that have plagued me for years. While I’ve certainly haven’t been suicidal in recent months or years (in fact, not since I quit consuming less-than-legal substances in 1991), it has definitely been the worst summer I’ve had since my breakdown in 2006 when my ex-wife and I were going through our split.
A lot of people trivialize depression, but it is a real medical issue with serious effects on people who suffer from it. It’s not something that you can just snap out of; it’s not something that will necessarily pass with time. In fact, those of us with dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) are often taken less seriously than people with a major depressive disorder, because while our symptoms are not as severe, they are more constant. Contrary to what many of my friends believe, depressive episodes can’t always be solved by going for a bike ride. They can be crippling. They can render you essentially incapable of doing those things which normally you most love.
So requiescat in pace, Robin. I hope you’ve found the peace you need … the peace you couldn’t find in life; but rest assured that you will be sorely missed, not just for your comedy, but for the things we had in common as well.