Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Depression

TigerBlog once wrote this about Robin Williams:

It [Two And A Half Men] is now preceded by "The Crazy Ones," featuring the single most overrated actor in American history - Robin Williams. Actually, that's not quite true. Let's clarify that. The single most overrated comedic actor. Other than Mork from Ork, what role did Williams ever play that was remotely funny? All he does is overact and try way too hard to be funny, something he almost never accomplishes. You know when Williams was great? In "Good Will Hunting." And why? Because he wasn't trying to be funny.

Robin Williams is dead now. He apparently killed himself yesterday at the age of 63.

Though Williams wasn't quite TigerBlog's cup of tea as a performer, TB will still acknowledge that Williams had a long and wildly successful career. He won an Academy Award for "Good Will Hunting" and was nominated for his second-best performance in TB's eyes, that of the DJ in "Good Morning Vietnam." He would lose to Michael Douglas, whose portrayal of Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" would have won pretty much any year.

Williams exploded into American comedy with a 1978 appearance on the show "Happy Days." If you never got to see "Happy Days," you missed out on something good - at least until Richie Cunningham grew up and decided to direct classic movies like "Apollo 13" and "A Beautiful Mind," for which he won an Academy Award. "A Beautiful Mind," of course, tells the story of Princeton's Nobel Prize-winning Economics professor John Nash and featured many scenes filmed on this campus - including some with Princeton athletes as extras.

"Happy Days" was the story of a regular family who lived in Milwaukee in the 1950s. It capitalized on the nostalgia craze and the success of the movie "American Graffiti," which was released in 1973, was set in 1962 and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, which it lost to "The Sting." In case you wanted a short list of people in "American Graffiti," it included Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams (Shirley, from "Laverne And Shirley), Suzanne Summers and even Wolfman Jack.

And Ron Howard, who played the main character on "Happy Days," Richie Cunningham, a student at Jefferson High School and later the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who lived at home with his parents Howard and Marian and sister Joanie (and older brother Chuck in the first season; he simply disappeared from the show after that). Oh, and there was the local mechanic who rented the apartment attached to the house, a mechanic named Arthur Fonzarelli, known to most as Fonzie or "The Fonz."

Anyway, on one episode, Richie encounters an alien from the planet Ork whose name was Mork, played by the young Robin Williams. His performance was so extreme for the time, so energetic, so original that he became an instant cultural phenomenon, his mannerisms mimicked and his signature "na-nu na-nu" greeting/distorted handshake part of the lexicon, as was his presumed curse word -  "shazbat."

Williams' performance on that one show earned him a spin-off, "Mork and Mindy," that ran for five years. It also launched him on his career.

Maybe he tried too hard to replicate the energy and originality that was Mork. Whatever it was, his comedy always missed with TigerBlog.

It was when he wasn't trying so hard, like in "Good Will Hunting," where he plays the therapist to super-genius Matt Damon, that Williams could be extraordinary.

And now, at age 63, Williams has taken his own life.

TigerBlog has read how Williams suffered from depression, which makes the first question - what did he have to be depressed about? He had it all, didn't he? Fame. Wealth. All of it. He was the very top of the very top.

And he killed himself?

TigerBlog won't pretend to be anything remotely close to an expert on depression, though he does know people who suffer from the disease. And here's what he does know:

There is a huge difference between feeling depressed about the events of the day and suffering from clinical depression. They are not remotely the same thing.

Clinical depression is an illness, and it can afflict anyone. What they have, how much money they have, how good their life appears to be - these things don't make it any better.

And that's the problem. It's often impossible to know who is suffering, who is internalizing everything and hoping to get by each day, until it is too late.

TigerBlog is surrounded here by 1,000 Princeton athletes, young people who presumably have it all, who clearly have nothing to be depressed about.

But that doesn't mean that some of them aren't suffering from depression. Even scarier is that some of those who are probably don't realize it or realize it but don't seek out help for it.

They're Princeton students and high-level Division I athletes. They can handle it, right? They got this far.

But that's the scariest thought of all.

The University and Department of Athletics can't make this diagnosis. It can't look inside the minds of its athletes. All it can do is hope for that those who suffer seek treatment - and make sure they know such treatment is available.

And treatment is available. That's for sure. This University and its athletic department - like most, TB assumes - is ready to do almost anything for its athletes to ensure they get the help they need.

There have been headlines in the past of what can happen to those who appear to have the most to live for, the most going for them, if their depression gets the best of them.

It's awful to think about what could happen. Think it can't? Did anyone expect to get the news last night that Robin Williams of all people had killed himself?

TB just hopes Princeton's athletes - and anyone, really - asks for the help before it's too late.

The results could be tragic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So right, TB. Depression is an illness. There is nothing about being accomplished or having it all or looking fine that provides immunity to an illness. If only it were so simple. There is no weakness in asking for help. Hopefully coaches and teammates will continue to be aware and the culture will continue to develop an ethos that is proactive about mental health. Academic Athletic Fellows, Counseling and Psych Services, advisors, friends, teammates, coaches-- all potential resources for a student athlete who might be struggling.