A few years ago I went to my college reunion, and the university offered some special faculty lectures for the occasion. My favorite one was titled "What Made Mozart a Genius?" The lecturer, a professor in the med school and the music department, deconstructed Mozart's thought processes to show how they are different from the way you and I think.
For instance, Mozart is famous for his skill in playing with musical phrases. He loved to take a melody and run it through all the variations: forward, backward, inside-out, in a minor key, in a major key and on and on.
The professor told us Mozart loved to do the same thing with language, too, effortlessly slipping from a Viennese accent to a Bavarian accent to a Berlin accent to a Hamburg accent and so on.
Then he said, "Who in our own time does that remind you of?" Nothing but blank stares. He looked incredulously at us and said, "Robin Williams, of course!"
So if you want to know how Williams' mind worked, it worked like Mozart's. And, in his own way, he was a great artist, too.
Everyone has his/her favorite Robin Williams moment, but I have two.
The first was his moving portrayal of a melancholy Russian immigrant in "Moscow on the Hudson," an extraordinary display of restraint, especially for an actor who was famous for being over-the-top.
The second came at the 1985 Academy Awards, when emcees Jane Fonda and Alan Alda announced, "There are so many people around the world watching that we're calling on the linguistic services of our co-host, Mr. Robin Williams." They sent greetings to China, India and France -- which were receiving a live Oscar telecast for the first time -- while Williams translated the words into their respective languages.
Then Fonda gave a "special hello" to the Philippines, which had just kicked out dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-hoarding wife, Imelda.
Williams' translation: "Come on down! Some of these shoes have never been worn! Check it out!" Only he would have the wit to think of that joke. Or the chutzpah to pull it off. There will never be another even remotely like him, alas.
It's so sad that in the end, he couldn't see himself the way so many people who loved him saw him -- or be open to the possibility that they might be right. But that's depression for you. It's a nasty, insidious disease that causes you to isolate yourself just when you need other people's support the most.
I know. I've been depressed all my life. That's a hard thing to admit, especially when depression still has such a stigma. (On the day Williams died, a Fox News host said he was "such a coward" for killing himself.) But I think it would be a good start for all of us who struggle with depression to come out of the closet. So I am.
If you are having suicidal thoughts yourself, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. It's open 24/7, and the person on the other end will be someone who's been there, too.
And if you know someone who is wrestling with suicidal thoughts, don't assume they won't act on it. Get involved. Show them that you care.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.