Anyone who was raised on Robin Williams' classics is still reeling from the news of his death. We all felt like we knew him. It was first reported by the media that he had committed suicide as the result of severe depression and repeated drug and alcohol use. As I was scrolling through my newsfeeds after hearing about his death, the comments made about his depression were indeed chilling enough. People said that he shouldn't have been depressed because of all he had been given.
When the news broke later in the week that he had early-stage Parkinson's disease, the media storm that hit turned my stomach. As someone who has lived with a very visible disability all my life (cerebral palsy), to see the media implying that his disability was so tragic he felt the need to kill himself, was disturbing.
While his death has prompted us to have a discussion around depression and mental illness (I think we should be having these discussions readily anyhow, and they should seem no more important simply because a celebrity dealt with it), I think it is necessary that we consider how we view disability. We need to have discussions around the stigmatization of those with disabilities, and more importantly the fear that surrounds disability. Disability is never frankly discussed and as a result, the mythology of what disability could be versus what it is in reality continues to grow. The Parkinson's story in connection to Williams' suicide makes it clear that we have a long way yet to come in our true acceptance and understanding of Persons with Disabilities today.
Consider that Michael J. Fox has Parkinson's disease and he is still working. Christopher Reeve worked as an actor and director right up until his death. Countless other actors/celebrities and professionals who have embraced their disabilities and made them their own. For instance, my disability enabled me to appear on television and in a short film discussing the realities of sexuality and disability. I can't hide from it, but I can mobilize it. It is something we should be celebrating, not shunning. Disability can make our screens that much brighter, it can ground the story in a reality that we so often overlook, and need to be seeing and talking about.
No one will ever know why Robin Williams took his own life. That is not for us to know. However, for us to even entertain the suggestion that disability was the primary contributing factor is shameful, telling and chilling all at once. Two wheels forward, four wheels back.
If you want to find out more about my work as a Disability Awareness Consultant, please go to www.andrewmorrisongurza.com.