Robin Williams, Gene Simmons and Celebrity Depression
A couple of days ago we woke to the tragic news that Robin Williams had not only passed away but had taken his own life. Before long the story expanded to include Williams struggles with depression and how much of a contributing factor this was in the event. In spite of this we kept seeing social media disgorging phrases like ‘selfish’, ‘stupid’ and ‘excuse’. It was a difficult situation to accept – someone known the world over for his ability to bring happiness and laughter killed themself. When I saw the links on Facebook I did some checking to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. Even when you factor in the disbelief there was a clear sense of misunderstanding. Once I’d written a tribute I’d decided not to focus much of the topic of depression because we wanted to celebrate his achievements rather than focus on his death, but the ongoing misrepresentation of the illness – most notably from Gene Simmons – that I’ve opted to address it directly.
Depression is a confusing condition. Some initial misunderstanding can occur because the term ‘depression’ sounds a heck of a lot like ‘depressed’. When a person is feeling depressed it means that they’re feeling unhappy. Down in the dumps. Crummy. It’s an emotion, like happiness, boredom or chirpiness and like those emotions it will be short term and heavily influenced by external stimuli. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental illness, one that still garners much misunderstanding in spite of how common it is. The important thing to remember is that it’s about chemicals.
Your brain is full of chemicals. The amount of each chemical being produced at a given time relates to the emotions you are feeling. Depression, like most mental illnesses, comes about when the chemical balance is out of whack. In this case it prevents you from fully appreciating the positives in your life. Sufferers are left to dwell on the negative, often leading to a spiral downwards. How much good you have in your life isn’t a factor in condition, as depression will blind you to it. This is why many people have been left stunned by Robin Williams’ departure. Not only was he a celebrity comedian but he was a highly respected figure in the field. It’s been said that his colleagues could be left intimidated by his remarkably quick wit. He had wealth, fame and respect, and he also had family. Recently remarried in 2009 and the father to three children, his positive relationship with his eldest daughter was on show in this Nintendo commercial.
The guy had a lot to life for, and some people have called him selfish for giving it all up. They’ve got it backwards. This is the power the illness has over some people – it can over ride all of this. Williams has had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, and many interviewers have noted that he remains very much on form during public appearances. This all suggests a long history with depression, possibly that his final action may be something he’s been fighting for a long time.
It’s hard for any of us to know for certain, because there’s no clear cut occurrence of depression. Although there are some broad symptoms and treatments (both pharmaceutical and through therapy) that occur in most people everyone with depression will feel it a bit differently. Everyone’s brain works differently and the illness occurs on a spectrum. Each person will see it manifest a bit differently and finding the required treatment can be unpredictable. This is why there are so many anti-depression medicals available, and even someone who have been doing well on one treatment might suddenly find it losing it’s effectiveness.
Without this kind of information people can be dismissive of the full impact and struggles of depression sufferers. Some people respond to sufferers being focused on the negative with attitudes of ‘it’s all in your head’ (well, yes, it is a MENTAL illness). And that brings us to Gene Simmons.
This past few days we’ve seen a lot of unfortunate comments about Robin Williams (including a pair of horrid pieces of shit sending photoshopped images to Zelda Williams, but those responsible were less acting out of misunderstanding but a complete and total inability to function within a normal society of people). Most notably we’ve heard from bassist Gene Simmons, who took time out from the continuing cycle of KISS farewell/reunion tours to illustrate exactly how little he understand depression. According to the dimwitted wonder, when a person stands on a ledge and threatens to jump we should point a gun at them to find out whether or not they actually mean it.
Not only is this incredibly insensitive but downright ignorant. Let’s look a hypothetical wherein a person is threatening suicide but can’t follow through – they are STILL sending up a red flag. There is still something wrong and they want you to help them. Acting like a flippant prick and trying to prove them wrong is the exact opposite of what you should be doing (hint: you should be helping). This is a selfish response, where you want to be in the right rather than reach out to another human. Gene Simmons really does prove that if it wasn’t for the success of his band he’d be sitting on Reddit wearing a fedora along with that fuckwit who bragged about buying all the pies from Burger King to spite a child who was acting like a child (although unlike the Reddittor the child had the excuse of actually being a child).
There are a few things we need to remember about Gene Simmons though. Firstly, he had to make a living under a metric tonne of make-up because nobody wanted to see an over-sexed rock star who looked like this:
Then there’s his long standing pattern of insecurities. He brags that he’s had sex with more than 5000 women (one can only presume it was while he was wearing his make-up – see above image). He claims that he invented the long standing ‘devil-sign’ that is a trademark with heavy rock and roll when the credit goes to the late Dio. He claims to own ‘orange juice’. In the modern age of leaked sex tapes he staged his own ‘leaked’ tape with what looks like a hired professional and still claims it’s genuine. This is a man who, for all his bravado, still acts like he’s stumbled into the public limelight and doesn’t quite understand how he got there. He’s hardly the man who should be speaking out on the sensitive issues of depression and suicide.
In short: fuck Gene Simmons. His day in the sun has long gone out and his outlandish behaviour is no longer part of a well-crafted stage persona but of a sad old fart who wants the kids to think he’s cool. We’re all for our ageing rockers to continue working and we’re excited to see them perform (a couple of years back I was embarrassingly excited to see Madness perform ‘House of Fun’ live) but there is a value in dignity. If this is how Gene Simmons wants to try and stay in the headlines we can do without him.
At the end of the day, we should try to remember that depression can impact on anyone regardless of status or privilege. At some point in your life you’re going to cross paths with with a sufferer if you haven’t already. You may be in close contact with someone now and not know it. Remember that they may not want to spend all day talking about it, but at the same time would like someone available to talk to when they need it. Remember that they may not respond to it to the same way as the last person you met did.
But most importantly, don’t be Gene Simmons. One is more than enough. Fuck that guy.