© Chris Courtney Photography
Originally written and published 14/08/2014
10/11/2018 - When I wrote this in 2014, I was referring to the Hollywood of Harvey Weinstein. A Hollywood I worked in for a short time and ran from as soon as I could. In the context of what has come to light, this piece might make more sense, in fact, it's oddly, strangely prescient. I cannot remember why or how I made the connection of Weinstein to Williams, but there was something. A memory of them in a room together maybe - but there was something. There is much more that hasn't come to light. I wonder if it ever will.
Having only glimpsed and been privy to part of the business Williams was in, I can tell you that there are parts of it that are disgusting, distasteful and in some cases, outside the laws of community and humanity.
I've thought better of writing a post about Robin Williams. Everyone has an opinion about Williams, mental illness, suicide - but I feel like there is part of the equation that I haven't seen articulated yet. Many are commenting on the fact that he was a success, famous, not uber-wealthy but not a starving artist by a long shot, etc. That's how we see him, but I'd like to speculate (and this is pure speculation - I did not know the man) about how he may have seen the world.
For those of us living in the cheap seats, the view of the rich and famous is glamorous, exciting and somewhat carefree. We also assume those at the top have value and that our reverence for them is earned and deserved.
So imagine getting to the top and instead of being surrounded by demi-gods and a glorious world, what you find is a kind of grotesque self-indulgence, a weird surreal wealth and absurd moralities that are almost unfathomable? Williams may not have disappointed us (though I know a few San Francisco comedians who vehemently accused him of stealing their material), but what if the world disappointed him?
Having only glimpsed and been privy to part of the business Williams was in, I can tell you that there are parts of it that are disgusting, distasteful and in some cases, outside the laws of community and humanity. Entourage makes fun of some of the lighter bits but the decadence and depravity of some of the people who work and run Hollywood would curl your toes. (I don't wonder too much why he lived in the Bay Area, the air quality and the culture notwithstanding.)
I read an interview in which Williams shared what it was like performing for the troops in the Middle East, and some of what he alluded to was a real unease he had with the people he met who were in power, places he stayed that made him entirely uncomfortable and things he saw that stopped him in his tracks. In some interviews, you can hear in his voice a real sense of despair - that may not be entirely based on mental illness - a sense of limitless disappointment and futility of trying to make a difference in a business and a culture based on indifference. It's a tone you hear a lot in Good Will Hunting.
Imagine creating something like Comic Relief while living among assholes (yes, complete utter, self-indulgent, self aggrandizing assholes) who throw shit fits because they can't get 100 bottles of Crystal at the night club because the owner only ordered 99 bottles. I've seen worse. I've met people in this business who I would love to watch being eaten by Hannibal Lecture.
Then there are the real horrors who make their way to the business like pilgrims to Mecca and who would be, in any rational, human world, utterly grotesque pariahs. Men who use their influence to get whatever they want (including a producer I met once who had young boys of 11 and 12 brought up from Mexico to 'play' with). Women who would sell the souls of their children to get what they want (Lady MacBeth would blush). These people take their toll on humanity in all sorts of ways, I'm speculating that maybe, just maybe, we all just witnessed one more of those tolls.
Imagine believing in the world and thinking that it gets better as you get more successful - that you get to meet 'better' people (there's hugely flawed logical there to begin with but a lot of people think that successful people are better people for some reason) - that you will have better experiences - that you will be happier - that you will influence the world for the better. And now imagine that none of that can or will ever be true - and the more you try to use your influence (this fame and money and success that everyone is saying he had) the more you see how truly hopeless it all is?
Williams probably saw more of the world than most of us and he saw it from a vantage point that while privileged was also probably uniquely shocking. The rich and famous can build penthouses in the tree tops, but the scorpions that live among them are venomous, ruthless, and impossible to ignore.