Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

I don't know about you, but I am still thinking about that soft, disturbing voice inside the haunted head of superstar Robin Williams. That's why Todd Wilken were still talking about that topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

As I discussed in my first post on the actor's suicide, Williams was very open -- during his entire adult life -- about the troubling nature of the voices he heard that made his improvisational genius possible, along with the voices that urged him to end it all -- either slowly, through substance abuse, or quickly, through suicide. Remember the quotes that were included in so many of the mainstream obituaries?

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump!' " he told ABC News.

Or maybe this one:

 "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

Now, one does not need to leap into religious talk-radio land -- where some people oh-so-compassionately suggested that Williams was possessed by demons -- to recognize that Williams was being quite candid about the presence of evil and temptation in his life. It appeared that he took that very, very seriously.

At the same time, as Wilken and I discussed, this was a man haunted by the reality of evil and injustice in the world (think Comic Relief, for starters) and he often -- very often -- discussed this in comic terms, both profane and profound. This was not a man who doubted the existence of moral absolutes, on many issues. His riffs on theology and Bible issues are not those of an apathetic soul.

Thus, I have been haunted by the God-shaped hole -- yes, the "ghost" -- in the mainstream Williams coverage. I keep thinking about that cartoon image that people kept using on Twitter, the moment at the end of "Aladdin" when the Genie is set free. The implication was that, through his suicide, Williams had been set free. 

Really now? The soft, sad voice telling him to jump off the precipice set him free? That's a serious approach to suicide? 

Meanwhile, over in the world of religious websites, it was common to see discussions of what religious leaders could learn from this tragedy about the everyday realities of depression, addiction and suicide.

All I can say is, "amen" to that. In fact, this is precisely the journalistic news hook that I think could have been seized by mainstream journalists, as well as religious-market scribes. I was also profoundly moved, for personal reasons, when the news broke that Williams was living in the shadow of a recent Parkinson's disease diagnosis. Here is another news hook for timely, urgent coverage (and preaching).

Please listen to the podcast discussion on this point. All I will say is that my father died of Parkinson's more than a decade ago and, back when he first learned his diagnosis, I did quite a bit of reading on the subject for obvious reasons.

The bottom line: It cannot be stressed too much the terrible nature of the depression that slams into people in the first year or two after learning that they have Parkinson's disease. Here is another subject worthy of serious, informed coverage by journalists and discussion by religious leaders in pulpits and in education programs.

Learning this detail in the Williams story only deepened the tragedy, for me.

Enjoy the podcast? Well, listen and think hard. Please.

Please respect our Commenting Policy