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editorial

Robin Williams found laughter amid pain

Robin Williams appears onstage during MTV’s Total Request Live in New York in 2006.

Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Robin Williams appears onstage during MTV’s Total Request Live in New York in 2006.

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Robin Williams knew only too well the connection between pain and comedy; his struggles with addiction and depression were well known to his friends, as was his concern for fellow sufferers. He volunteered to raise money for a homeless shelter on Boston’s Long Island in the 1980s, and helped put homelessness on the national agenda. One of his best-known roles was as a Boston psychiatrist, in “Good Will Hunting,” but the connection between his life and his art was more basic: The manic, free-associating style that marked his performances was, in the eyes of many, a means of escape.

Still, the news on Monday that Williams had, in a bout of severe depression, taken his own life, struck many people as a terrible blow. Celebrities can be a daily presence for their fans, and their passing carries the weight of a personal loss. The news that Williams was able to function successfully while suffering from severe mental illness may have struck some as a surprise. But it’s a daily reality to millions of recovering addicts and people struggling with depression. The best way to honor Williams is to look out for others who suffer in silence, and to seek more awareness and treatment, without forgetting the laughter.

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