Henry Rollins on Robin Williams’ Death: “F**k Suicide” [UPDATE]

Henry Rollins is gonna take some heat for this one.  He posted this in his blog for LA Weekly–and before you comment, read the piece again.  He’s not saying that severely depressed people are weak and need to get their act together (Gene Simmons’ original thesis).  He just disagrees with the suicide solution to the problem.  Those are two completely different issues.

Ready?  Here we go.

Days after Robin Williams died, I kept seeing his face on the Internet. His death seemed to have a momentum of its own. It went from a sad death of a famous person to “a nation mourns” pitch, which I didn’t quite understand. Sites such as Huffington Post swim in their own brand of hyperbole. They call it news and culture, but often, it’s just content.

I understand why people feel Williams’ loss so intensely. His talent as an actor is not in dispute. His performance in Good Will Hunting is unimpeachable. I wonder if he was tapping into his own deep trench of personal pain to deliver some of those scenes. It was brave and excellent work. 

The more you think about it, the more you remember one great performance after another. Good Morning Vietnam is a favorite of mine.

When someone with this level of exposure dies in this way, it is confusing. An Oscar-winning actor, well-paid, with a career that most performers could only dream of — how could anyone so well regarded and seemingly fortunate have as much as even a single bad day, much less a life so unendurable that it has to be voluntarily voided?

On more than one of my USO tours, Robin Williams had been on the same stage a few days before me. That’s all I needed to know about him. As far as I was concerned, he was a good man. 

But it’s here where I step off the train. I am sure some will strongly disagree with what I’m about to say. And I also understand that his personal struggles were quite real. I can’t argue with that.

But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves. 

How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.

I know some people will disagree. And I get that you can’t understand anyone else’s torment. All that “I feel your pain” stuff is bullshit and disrespectful. You can appreciate it, listen and support someone as best you can, but you can’t understand it. Depression is so personal and so unique to each of us that when you’re in its teeth, you think you invented it. You can understand your own, but that’s it. When you are severely depressed, it can be more isolating than anything else you have ever experienced. In trying to make someone understand, you can only speak in approximation. You are truly on your own.

Everyone handles their emotional vicissitudes in their own ways. I am no doctor, but I think the brain is always looking for a sense of balance and normal function so the body can operate efficiently. Some people medicate accordingly, in an attempt to stay somewhat even. That pursuit can lead one down some dark paths. Someone who is an addict might not be an “addict” in the pejorative sense but merely trying to medicate and balance themselves.

Many years ago, I lived in Silver Lake with a housemate who suffered from severe bouts of depression. When she wasn’t in her small bedroom with the lights off, crying for hours, she was bright and hilarious. Anywhere we went, we laughed our asses off. She fought her depression with everything from bike rides to drugs, prescribed and otherwise. Years after the last time I saw her, I guess she could no longer keep up the battle and killed herself. No one who knew her was surprised. When she was in her deepest misery, she was unrecognizable. 

The hardest part about being around her was you knew there was nothing you could do to help. 

I get it, but then again, maybe I don’t.

When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not.

I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to. It sucks they are gone, of course, but it’s the decision they made. I have to respect it and move on.

A few years ago, a guy I’d known for many years hanged himself in a basement. Weeks later, I went to the spot and picked up bits of plastic coating from the cord he used, which were on the floor after he was cut down. I liked the guy, but all I could think of then is all I can think of now — the drawings his kids had made that were pasted up on the walls of his kitchen.

Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.

Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it. For all the people who walked from the grocery store back to their house, only to be met by a robber who shot them in the head for nothing — you gotta hang in there. 

I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough. Raw Power forever.

Me?  I’m with Henry–sort of .  I understand depression very, very well–but even at the darkest of dark times, they’re gotta be a better way to make the pain stop, even when there seems to be no other way out. There’s just has to be. Checking out on your own leaves behind its own misery with those who knew you.  (Please don’t bring up assisted suicide for those who are in terrible pain and have zero quality of  life. That’s another debate altogether.)

Easier said than done, I know.  If you’ve ever been severely depressed, you just want it all to go away–and if you haven’t experienced depression, you have no idea how dark things can get.  And it’s not the depressed person’s fault.  They. Can’t Help. It.  The chemicals in their brain are, as Henry terms is, off balance.  Ending it all often seems like the easiest and best idea.

Yet there’s something in me that says we gotta keep fighting. And while it’s extremely hard to be a friend to a depressed person, it may be the most important thing you ever do.

[UPDATE]: Hank has backpedaled somewhat. Go here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

4 thoughts on “Henry Rollins on Robin Williams’ Death: “F**k Suicide” [UPDATE]

  • August 22, 2014 at 9:13 am

    “Yet there’s something in me that says we gotta keep fighting.” And that’s the key – it’s once the little voice stops saying that mantra that things go pear-shaped.

  • August 22, 2014 at 9:42 am

    I’ve suffered from depression for years and Henry gets a lot of it right from an outsider point of view. Kudos to him because there are tons of folks who don’t even try to understand. When it comes to suicide, I think sometimes there’s an additional switch involved. I’ve certainly thought seriously about suicide but have never made actual concrete plans to do it. I don’t know what the difference is, because it’s not that I thought things would get better. Obviously they do for a lot of folks, and there are others like me who are up and down faster than a roller coaster, for years on end, which is so amazingly exhausting, both mentally and physically. But mentally, there has got to be an additional little difference between two equally-depressed people (as if it’s even measurable) when one goes through with it and one doesn’t. In all my years of living with this illness, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking, but I don’t have the answer. It’s possible no one does. Henry doesn’t appear willing to change his ultimate distaste for those who kill themselves, but as you say, unless you’ve lived through it personally, you just don’t know why the decision is made and ultimately carried out.

  • August 22, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I think when someone is depressed, they are impaired; they aren’t thinking straight. It’s like trying to reason with someone who is really drunk. I’m guessing that they think their loved ones will be better off without them.

  • August 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Henry’s thoughts are welcome because he is thoughtful and a commentator of life that sometimes steps in it which is eventually going to happen. I much prefer him to speak than to be a mute even if this is sometimes the result. Sadly, some topics might be approached from a practical or theoretical, emotional or rational approach and discussions might get different reactions depending on how ones interpret it.

    Sadly, some topics such as racism, drug addiction, suicide, womans rights, special education and the holocaust are emotionally charged so there is no point when speaking about these issues in a rational, theory of choice manner. They are just too charged and our decisions on these are emotionally based.

    Henry might have only been talking about the act or maybe just the theory behind it. What bothers me about Henry’s comments is that he is speaking in absolutes about parenting and saying that “he made that choice.” Sometimes Henry, kids just happen and make life even more complex for people like Robin. I know Henry’s response would spiral into a discussion about a further choice issue which I will avoid here.

    The fact is that Robin created a legacy for the world through his art and created a legacy with his children who are however thrown off are still here and have bright futures. Robin left us with a great understanding of the possibility of humanity and maybe the twin responsibilities of acting and parenthood just took its toll on a man. Henry should avoid the choice issue and maybe focused on the ‘what is here and now’ issue.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.