O Captain! – Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams

robin Williams

In the days since the news of Robin William’s death rocked Hollywood and the world I have been drawn back to some of my favorite scenes from his movies. I have found myself smiling and laughing again at the absurdity of Mrs. Doubtfire dousing out a fire as her sumptuous bosom went up in flames, of Genie flowing out of a magic lamp with a crick in his neck.

Robin Williams was a truly talented man who brought life and voice to hundreds of characters that have delighted and moved us. But nothing is quite as moving as the way in which this amazing man died. In the midst of a life dedicated to bringing humor and laughter to the world, we are told that Robin Williams was not able to find reasons to smile in his own life. His struggles with depression and the sadness that must have surely crept into his soul caused him to find solace only by ending it all.

It is in this final act of Robin William’s life that he speaks most poignantly to us. He is not speaking with a foreign accent or ranting as a comic mad man. His words are not coming as he prances around on stage or flies through Neverland. Instead, his voice comes to us quietly and in the chambers of our souls.

In the whisper of his death, Robin is imploring each of us to be attentive to the difficulties and realities of mental health issues. He is inviting us to attend to our own suffering or the suffering of those around us and to seek help. We cannot pretend that struggles with depression, substance abuse or other debilitating diseases of the mind and soul will simply fly away on a magic carpet. Instead, Robin Williams reminds us that we need to take mental health issues seriously and be very proactive in dealing with the many forms of pain and suffering that haunt so many.

In one of the final moments of the movie Dead Poets Society in which Williams played the enthusiastic literature teacher John Keating, Williams picks up a book that belonged to his student who had taken his own life. Williams opens the book and sorrowfully reads a quote from David Henry Thoreau:

    I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberatively.
    I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life!
    To put to name all that was not life.
    And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

In his death, Robin Williams reminds us to live deliberatively and to suck out all the marrow of life. That can only happen if we are in a place where life doesn’t feel constantly overwhelming.

If you or a friend or family member are struggling, please know that you are not alone. There are many who have walked in your shoes or accompanied someone through tough times. If you want to reach out to someone who can help, here are links to a few resources (click on them):

DePaul University Counseling Services
Veterans Crisis Line
National Suicide Hotline
National Helpline ( for individuals and families facing mental health and/or substance use disorders)

Rev. Diane Dardon is Protestant Chaplain with DePaul University’s Office of Religious Diversity