Peter Coyote’s Wisdom Regarding Robin Williams’ Suicide

I am still trying to get my arms around ROBIN WILLIAMS taking his own life. Though I never knew or met him, when someone in our entertainment ecosystem passes, our accumulated familiarity with them feels like the loss of a friend. From all accounts, he was an exceedingly kind and approachable man, but battled the immense invisible pain of depression. Many do. It is hidden and no one knows often to what extent until it is too late. How sad.


For all his crazy, funny comedic genius, it was his serious and comedic acting that I really loved… Patch Adams, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, etc. that I will miss most. His friend, actor Peter Coyote, penned a short remarkable piece that is both healing and kindly instructive:


PETER COYOTE:  “Robin and I were friends. Not intimate, because he was very shy when he was not performing. Still, I spent many birthdays and holidays at his home with Marsha and the children, and he showed up at my 70th birthday to say “Hello” and wound up mesmerizing my relatives with a fifteen-minute set that pulverized the audience.


When I heard that he had died, I put my own sorrow aside for a later time. I’m a Zen Buddhist priest and my vows instruct me to try to help others. So this little letter is meant in that spirit.


Normally when you are gifted with a huge talent of some kind, it’s like having a magnificent bicep. People will say, “Wow, that’s fantastic” and they tell you, truthfully, that it can change your life, take you to unimaginable realms. It can and often does. The Zen perspective is a little different. We might say, “Well, that’s a great bicep, you don’t have to do anything to it. Let’s work at bringing the rest of your body up to that level.”


Robin’s gift could be likened to fastest thoroughbred race-horse on earth. It had unbeatable endurance, nimbleness, and a huge heart. However, it had never been fully trained. Sometimes Robin would ride it like a kayaker tearing down white-water, skimming on the edge of control. We would marvel at his courage, his daring, and his brilliance. But at other times, the horse went where he wanted, and Robin could only hang on for dear life.


In the final analysis, what failed Robin was his greatest gift—his imagination. Clutching the horse he could no longer think of a single thing to do to change his life or make himself feel better, and he stepped off the edge of the saddle. Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear. They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do.


Our great-hearted friend will be back as the rain, as the cry of a Raven as the wind. He, you, and I have never for one moment not been a part of all it. But we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice, which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift. He would beg us to pay attention if he could.”




4 Responses to “Peter Coyote’s Wisdom Regarding Robin Williams’ Suicide”

  1. James

    What a lovely tribute to a tortured soul.Robin Williams was talented and deeply self loathing,it destroyed all sense of perception.Our loss and his loss.Sleep peacefully.

  2. Cindy Wilson

    Yes, depression is an immensely invisible disease. We live years not even knowing we have it. Hiding behind a smile we wear a mask so that no one can see our massive pain. It can leave you broken, so alone, reaching out for help but no one reaches back to take your hand. I cried when I heard Robin Williams died because from one HUMAN to another, I could see his pain.I have PTSD with major depression. See a therapist regularly and take my meds as prescribed. I still cry. I still hurt. I still reach out, and yet no one is there.
    Rest in peace my dear friend.

  3. Sasha Sabbeth

    Thank you for this valuable tribute to this truly great genius. Thank you for showcasing the truth about how one aspect of one’s life can be the most extraordinary diamond while other aspects of one’s can be underdeveloped, out of control, and/or invisible until it emerges full throttle creating great chaos and destructive havoc

    My only caution in referencing what one can do when suffering from depression, the talons of that condition most often can not be freed by taking a walk, thinking of other peoples’ needs to get our mind off of ourselves. The strength of depression can not really be imagined until one has lived it. It is not just a mood that can pass by focusing else where at times. It can be a prison that cloisters a person far away from life itself.

    The comment “They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do” is the code that has kept me alive. That belief, that attitude does indeed require tremendous verve of spirit and tenacity to simply never give up. It also requires a belief that other people can relate somewhat to those darkest moments and, therefore, at least keep us company as we traverse the inner darkness. Those that do not have the capacity to endure us when we are locked in those dark closets will fall away. Those who love us and have the character depth to stand by our side no matter what, are the ones that deserve our love, respect, and trust.

    Robin Williams, you were an icon of so many great human expressions. May you awaken the lost ones to find another way and may you continue to inspire those to rock out their talent while still alive.

    Thank you Mr. Fagan for this article. Amen.

  4. Libby

    That was beautifully stated. I literally ran into Robin Williams at a comedy club years ago. He was very shy and nice. His talent and genius with comedy and improv remain unsurpassed. I still miss him….

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