Oliver Duff

i Editor's Letter: Fame and success can't magically cure mental illness

The world idolised Robin Williams for his comic brilliance, but he was just as vulnerable as anyone else

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Look around your train carriage, bus, office, café, neighbours…  One in four of the people there will experience some kind of mental health problem during the course of a year, on average, according to the charity Mind.

Depression does not  discriminate by wealth or “success”, although people  facing financial or physical  hardship are exposed to more risk factors. We are shocked by the suicide of a brilliant comic, but mental illness does not respect fortune.

Robin Williams spoke frankly of his struggles with alcoholism, cocaine addiction and depression: “You just realise you’ve started to do embarrassing things,” and “I was shameful... that’s hard to recover from.”

My favourite film – let alone my favourite Robin Williams film – is Good Morning, Vietnam. His frenetic, pedal-down improv is never more of a delight than when he punctures the pomposity of his superiors here. I like the description of him by film critic Robbie Collins as “a lightning ball of nervous comic energy”. Our own Geoffrey Macnab writes of Williams’ talent for portraying more sensitive characters.

In interviews he had a sparkling and self-effacing wit, quipping that getting married for the third time “given my track record is a bit like bringing a burns victim to a fireworks display”. He added, memorably, that divorce is  “from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet”.

Williams brought laughter to so many lives – and plenty of us would like to be able to say that.

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