Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Thin Line


Robin Williams 2011a (2).jpg

Robin Williams 1951-2014

photo by Wikipedia

They say that there is a thin line between genius and insanity. I believe that there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. The death by suicide of Robin Williams two days ago, has affected me, like millions of others, quite profoundly. There is no doubt that the man was a comedic genius and that such talent will be greatly missed, but clearly there was another side to his manic public personality.

It is this connection between great talent and emotional disorder that interests me. Most certainly I can lay no claim to any great talent but I am intimately familiar with emotional disorder. My mother suffered from depression, my cousin suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I take a little pill every morning, without which I become psychco bitch from Hell.

Is there a relationship between talent, genius and chemical imbalance? I also wonder if that relationship carries even further to include addictive personality. Robin Williams not only battled depression but also cocaine and alcohol addiction. Is this simply an unfortunate side effect of living the life of a celebrity, or does it go deeper than that?


Judy Garland 1922-1969

Photo by Wikipedia


"When you have lived the life I've lived, when you've loved and suffered, and been madly happy and desperately sad -- well, that's when you realize you'll never be able to set it all down. Maybe you'd rather die first."


The pubic suffered another devastating loss in 1969 with the death of Judy Garland, certainly one of the greatest talents of all time. Although the official cause of Judy’s death was, “Barbituate Poisoning (quinalbarbitone), incautious self-overdosage, accidental”, the statement above does make one wonder. We know there was no dearth of emotional problems in Ms. Garland’s life and she, as well, counted drugs and alcohol abuse among her personal demons.


John Forbes Nash Jr.,

photo by Wikipedia


John Forbes Nash Jr. A beautiful mind. A mathematician, a genius, a Nobel Prize laureate and a schizophrenic of dramatic proportions. And he is not alone. There is some scientific evidence that there is a higher incidence of bipolar disorder in creative people such as painters, musicians, actors and poets than in the general population.

Writers Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway, composers Irving Berlin and Sergey Rachmaninoff, as well as painters Paul Gauguin and Jackson Pollock were all geniuses believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder. (Patient Health International). If there is a link between genius and creativity and psychological disorders, it seems sad to be given these gifts only to have to suffer for having them.





  1. Beautifully written. If you don't mind, I'd like to add one more thing. The gentleness of people who have addictions and end their lives. I often think they are too gentle for this world. It is a sad, sad thing and I too have been greatly impacted by the death of Robin Williams, for many reasons.

  2. You're right Barbara, it is so sad not only to lose such gifted people but to know what pain they must be in to end their lives.

  3. I have been wrestling with writing a piece about Robin Williams's death, but I simply cannot find the hook on which to hang it. I remember seeing his comedy routine for the first time during the summer of 1978. My friends Bill, Doug and I were in stitches. I still remember what I said to them: "This guy is nuts." Over the years, I discovered I was correct, but in darker ways than I had thought. Williams was one of those celebrities who almost wore "tragic ending" on his forehead.

    I recently lost another talented friend to the vagaries of alcohol and depression. All of us around him could only stand helpless while he took one tragic step after another. It was like watching someone standing on a frozen lake while the ice broke up around them.

    The best we can do when we are faced with such situations is to be as helpful and loving as we can -- fully realizing that sometimes we can only offer support. And prayer.

  4. Steve I just heard an hour or so ago, so I don't know if it is true, that Robin Williams had Parkinson's Disease. If that was the case it certainly casts some light on why he was battling depression and likely on his suicide as well.

    However the underlying current of the post still stands, as there are so many talented people whose lives are surrounded by tragedy, often brought on by themselves.

    You are right that in these situations all we can really offer is love and support, though sadly that is often not enough.