Robin Williams: Sorrow Behind the Laughter

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.

Proverbs 14:13

As is my custom when a celebrity dies from a suspected (or confirmed) addiction-related issue, I write a blog entry about it for the following reason: heightened awareness leads to an opportunity to teach biblical truths to shape our understanding of who Christ is and how we must respond in order to glorify Him. These blogs are not meant to demean the celebrity who no longer lives nor the surviving family. Instead, these blogs are intended to illustrate biblical truths to challenge us to respond with more urgency to reach a lost and dying world that desperately needs to hear a message of hope. It is why I continue to write books, articles, and blog posts about the topic of addiction even with a heavy heart in the wake of the very sad news about the suicide of Robin Williams.

Sometimes when a man as gifted in his craft as Robin Williams rises to stardom, we tend to think he is immortal. We elevate such stars as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Robin Williams because of their immense talent and constant screen presence in front of us. We are amazed at their God-given abilities and sometimes forget they are truly God-given. When the shocking news of their tragic deaths brings us crashing back down to earth, the reality sharply hits us that these celebrities are indeed mortal just as we are.

The cycle seems to repeat each time the multitudes of fans express shock when a celebrity dies, especially in cases of tragic suicides. The blitz of news reports about the celebrity mesmerize our culture for days, accompanied by the countless public expressions of surprise about how this could have happened to the famed person – who seemed to have it all: fame, money, happiness, and popularity along with a family, house, cars, and any material possessions one could imagine. Fans are amazed that the so-called American dream can really be a nightmare for these actors and performers, sometimes enduring everyday situations of life with throngs of people looking at them as if they really know them, and speaking to them even though they’ve only watched them on television. Fame produces an artificial world of pseudo-relationships, and for some, a prison.

While that may not have been entirely the case for Robin Williams, here are some known facts:

1) We know that he was in a hopeless state of mind, at least in that moment when he chose to take his life.

2) We know that he was admitted in July to one of the premiere secular addiction programs from the world’s perspective: Hazelden in Minnesota. He left without real hope.

3) We know he has recently been drinking alcohol excessively.

4) We know that he has a history of cocaine, alcohol (which is a drug in liquid form), and other drug use and abuse.

5) We know that he claims to have struggled with depression unsuccessfully over the years despite meeting with therapists and secular experts. In essence, he searched for solutions to depression and addiction from the top programs and experts that money can buy and yet was without hope as evidenced by his last actions on the earth. That is a tragic ending not unlike several Hollywood superstars in recent years.

In previous VOH blogs during the past year, I wrote about Lisa Robin Kelly’s tragic drug-related death and the urgency of the war we are in against addiction:   I also wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unexpected,  tragic death and about the true heart of addiction:  After the death of Cory Monteith, the young actor from the hit show, Glee, I lamented the fact that his Hollywood story is all too familiar and continues to repeat itself:  Sadly, the list of celebrity deaths due to drug-related reasons continues to grow.

Without an autopsy report, we do not know for sure if Robin Williams died directly due to an addiction but his addiction problems plagued him for many years and he was open about it. The autopsy will be completed in the next several weeks and will reveal what drugs, if any, he had taken. Regardless of that report, we know he never solved the mystery to him of the heart of addiction and was perplexed by the war inside. But for the believer in Christ who studies and obeys God’s Word, his death is a tragedy from which we can learn four redemptive lessons.

First, the only person to immortalize is Jesus because He truly is immortal. He is alive and well at this very moment in Heaven, and we await His triumphant return to establish His kingdom permanently. No person, no matter how gifted, should ever be immortalized. Even the person’s gifts must not be admired apart from the gift-Giver, who is the Lord God Almighty. God is to be praised, not man. Christians worship the Creator not the creation.

Second, the Word of God offers real hope and practical help to the alcoholic or addict. The problem is not that the Bible doesn’t speak to the topic of addiction or alcoholism but that we must re-define the world’s terms and best ideas (Col. 2:8) to understand how the Bible addresses those issues. Alcoholism is a worldly term; the biblical term is drunkenness. Addiction is a worldly term; the Bible speaks to idolatry, a spiritual worship problem in the heart of man. Until we begin addressing the heart biblically and utilizing the terminology of the Word of God, we will never find lasting solutions to problems like depression, addiction, alcoholism, and the like.

Third, heaven and hell are real places; the inevitability of eternity for every soul must motivate us to see each person on this earth as walking down a path toward one or the other. Robin Williams joked about heaven:  However, the Bible teaches us the sobering fact that everyone has sinned and fallen short (Rom. 3:23) of the perfect standards of God. Everyone needs a Savior in order to gain heaven. Without repentance and faith, everyone is destined for hell. These destinations are realities whether people acknowledge them or deny them. We all will face a holy and just God when we die – that is no joking matter. As Christ-followers, we must proclaim Him to a lost and dying world (Col. 1:28) with urgency.

Finally, many people are hurting though they hide it quite well. At Vision of Hope and in my counseling experiences from the past, counselees have been skilled at hiding behind their laughter and jokes. Some call it a defense mechanism intended to deflect attention from the matter at hand that is difficult to talk about in an attempt to avoid dealing with it. Humor is often a way to hide the sorrow of the heart. Despite his phenomenal sense of humor and hard work to make all of us laugh, Robin Williams recently revealed the truth of this verse in Proverbs 14:13: Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. Christian brother or sister, I urge you to look for the hurt in others’ eyes around you and reach out in the love, hope, and truth of the gospel of grace. Hurting soul, let me encourage you to reach out in hope and make contact with someone – let someone know the grief and aches of your heart. Suicide is not the answer you want – it is a permanent consequence to temporary feelings. Do not allow those feelings of sadness to hide behind the mask of laughter. There is hope in Christ alone. God loves you. And we at FaithChurch do, too. Contact our counseling office at 765-448-1555 or Vision of Hope at 765-447-5900.

Mark Shaw
Mark Shaw has 22 years of counseling experience working in a variety of settings including faith-based residential programs, dealing with issues surrounding “addictions” of all types, and supervising staff positions. His experience in the biblical counseling field began in 2001. He has written 14 published works including The Heart of Addiction; Relapse: Biblical Prevention Strategies; Divine Intervention: Hope and Help for Families of Addicts; Addiction-Proof Parenting; and Hope and Help for Self-Injurers/Cutters. He also co-authored a chapter in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling (2013).