Robin Williams, depression, and Stephen Fry

August 12, 2014 • 9:52 am

Until I read the comments on my brief obituary of Robin Williams, I had no idea that there was such a universal love of the man and his work.  And, it seemed, a lot of the affection was connected to the characters he played, both the unreservedly humorous ones (Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire), but, especially, the damaged ones who were all the more empathic for their trials (Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting and Parry in The Fisher King, both of whom lost their wives in tragic circumstances). And although I knew Williams had substance abuse problems, I didn’t really pay attention to reports that he suffered from mental illness, something that, remembering those roles, somehow makes sense.

(By the way, although everyone seemed to agree here that Williams suffered from bipolar disorder, I can’t confirm that. A piece at yesterday’s PuffHo reports that, “Comedian Robin Williams once told an interviewer that he struggled with depression, but hadn’t been diagnosed with either ‘clinical depression’ or bipolar disorder.”) Several other comics I can think of, including Stephen Fry (much more than a “comic,” of course), Spike Milligan, and Jonathan Winters, suffered from depression or other forms of mental illness. I can’t help but think that the malady helped feed some of their comedic genius. Winters’s and Williams’s rapid-fire, extemporaneous comedic riffs, for instance, seem like a highly channeled form of mania—one of the poles of bipolar disorder.

As New York Times movie reviewer A. O. Scott said in today’s Memoriam to Williams: 

Back then, it was clear that Mr. Williams was one of the most explosively, exhaustingly, prodigiously verbal comedians who ever lived. The only thing faster than his mouth was his mind, which was capable of breathtaking leaps of free-associative absurdity. Janet Maslin, reviewing his standup act in 1979, cataloged a tumble of riffs that ranged from an impression of Jacques Cousteau to “an evangelist at the Disco Temple of Comedy,” to Truman Capote Jr. at “the Kindergarten of the Stars” (whatever that was). “He acts out the Reader’s Digest condensed version of ‘Roots,’ ” Ms. Maslin wrote, “which lasts 15 seconds in its entirety. He improvises a Shakespearean-sounding epic about the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, playing all the parts himself, including Einstein’s ghost.” (That, or something like it, was a role he would reprise more than 20 years later in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.”)

Besides “Good Will Hunting” and “The Fisher King” (whose last scene I’ve reprised a few times in my own dreams), my favorite Williams movies were “Dead Poets Society,” and “Awakenings” (probably because the story, based on a book by Oliver Sacks, was so moving). And of course there were his incomparable comedic appearances, best when he was just making stuff up. When you saw Williams on a talk show, you always sat up because you knew you were in for a ride, and a lot of it would be hilarious.  While I don’t know what he was like in his private life, every sign I could see (plus a few readers’ comments) suggests that he was exactly what he seemed to be: a funny, empathic, and (in light of the news) troubled man who hid his troubles well. The statement from his wife in his obituary in the New York Times supports that:

Mr. Williams’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement that Mr. Williams “has been battling severe depression.”

His wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement, “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.” She added: “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Indeed, and that’s what readers here focused on. It is no small accomplishment to bring joy to the lives of so many people, and also, after death, to get them to open up about their own battles with depression. I found the readers’ confessional statements about depression very moving.  I’ve had enough friends and family so afflicted that I know it is far more than sadness, and that it can plunge one into a maelstrom of hopelessness so deep that there seems no way out but death. I know, too, that to the severely depressed their malady is like terminal cancer: they see no respite, ever, and so death seems preferable to eternal mental torment.

Williams’ passing thus gave us some moments of humanity that provided respite, however brief, from the troubles and brutality besetting our world right now. We can mourn Williams not only as a purveyor of joy and laughter, but also for the knowledge that he died from an affliction far commoner than we think, and perhaps we can learn to help those so afflicted.

How do we respond to the severely depressed? Stephen Fry, who has been suicidally depressed, shows us how. Read this post from From Letters of Note:

Early-2006, during a bout of depression, a young lady by the name of Crystal Nunn wrote a desperate letter to Stephen Fry. Says Crystal:

“I had no idea who to turn to. But I really needed someone to turn to and to ease the pain. So I wrote to Stephen Fry because he is my hero, and he has been through this himself. And low and behold, he replied to my letter, and I will love him eternally for this.”

Here’s Fry’s reply to her (there’s a transcript at the site if you can’t read this):


What a wonderful letter, and a wonderful man!

Here’s how you don’t respond to Williams death: as P.Z Myers has in a post at Pharyngula, in which he claims that the media (and our government) has taken advantage of Williams’s death to draw attention away from racism and other social problems. In other words, we’ve been manipulated:

 I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.

. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.

Yes, we can care about the oppressed, but we can also care about the loss of someone who did a lot of good in this world. Let’s face it: few of us atheists will make the difference that Robin Williams did. In a time of immense brutality, it does no good to ride roughshod over the feelings of those of us who really did admire and respect Robin Williams. What is gained by that?


467 thoughts on “Robin Williams, depression, and Stephen Fry

  1. Wow, I knew Myers could be a you-know-what, but this is terrible. How can someone post something like this? There’s something very cold and mean about that guy. I don’t understand it.

    1. Apparently there is nothing PZ can’t make into an offended Social Justice Warrior rant.

      Compliments to Jerry for his thoughtful write ups on the passing of Robin Williams, and for his willingness to call out PZ on this issue even though I suspect that Jerry would have preferred not to have another PZ related post for a while.

      1. This is a pretty recent phenomenon for PZ… when I started reading him, his mix wasn’t so different from Jerry’s — lots of creationist-spindling, general atheist-boosting, octopods, even occasional bits of straight biology [I recall especially good summaries of embryogenesis — the vertebrate eye, the whole branchial-arch complex in tetrapods]. And what appeared to be humor in his weekly cephalopod/spaghetti monster shtick..

        Pretty much gone now, and I can only conclude that Jerry’s 3-
        C Epicurean values [Cooking, Cats, Cowboy Boots] are prophylactic against Blogger’s Bitterness in a way that 1-C Cephalopods are not.

        1. I starting wondering about Myer’s balance during the Dennis Markuse affair.
          While most in the evolution/atheist community reacted with concern for this obviously troubled individual and took appropriate action Myers couldn’t resist adding mockery and nastiness.

  2. I hate to say this but, based on this obscene commentary and his anti-Israel fulminations, Prof. Myers is turning into a schmuck of the first order.

    1. Turning into a schmuck? I think that transformation happened a long time back. A few years back he was tossing around rape accusations based on hearsay and neither he nor his legion of drones could countenance the possibility that he might have done something wrong.

      1. His ‘drones’ are pretty loathesome. I think most were bullied at school for being geeks, and love nothing better than ganging up on whoever their leader takes a dislike to. He soaks up the adulation and feels emboldened to go further.
        I gave up his blog a couple of years ago. I would bet that the readership has plummeted in that time.

        1. After Myers banned me for a second time I sent him an email describing him as a deranged leader of an online cult, a sort of Jim Jones of the secular movement, and he wrote a big long post about it!
          The worst part is that he still portrays himself as a crusader for civil liberties, even though he’s hell-bent on crushing dissent within secularism itself.

    2. Turned.

      He’s been this way for years. Not long after the creation of Freethought (which I assume is meant ironically) blogs.

      It’s too bad, I enjoyed much of his work when he was at Scienceblogs.

    3. I am pretty sure PZ has always been like this. I (likely along with many in the atheist/skeptic webosphere) am guilty of some amusement when his vitriol only targetted creationists and other religious wackos.

      I recall at times feeling he was too harsh in his attacks back then, but generally gave him a pass, made excuses… which just goes to show I have my own tendencies to bias and double-standards.

      As he started posting on subjects where I disagreed, I began to also re-evaluate whether the degree of ridicule he heaped on the religious was quite so harmless.

  3. Great letter from Fry. And PZ really should be ashamed. As if Williams chose this moment for the purpose to serve government interests. Really, really awful.

    1. And even if his main point is that politicians and the media often don’t focus on things that deserve more attention, that point can be made without belittling, or referencing at all for that matter, an event that has every right to be thought of as a tragedy by those whom it affects as such.

      You don’t need to blow someone else’s candle out etc etc.

  4. Stephen Fry is such a sweet man. What a lovely thing to do, to write such a thoughtful and helpful note to the woman who reached out to him.

    What PZ wrote is despicable. It’s what I like to call the “but what about” statements. A story on a scientific discovery inevitably brings forth comments like, “what about the starving people”? The launch of a space craft is followed by “but what about the poor people”? It makes the questionnaire feel morally superior and he/she gets a kick out of ruining something for the others by making them feel like the attention they give something is somehow hurting others. It’s not.

    There is such a thing as doing more than one thing at a time. I am perfectly capable of calling out bigotry at the same time as celebrating the life of someone who has died tragically. I’m even capable of deriding violence and misunderstanding while empathizing with the deceased’s struggles — maybe even within the same sentence.

    PZ should be ashamed.

    1. Exactly. The little people argument is really just a manifestation of moral narcissism. Myers has evolved into a right wing xian fundie’s caricature of an atheist lefty liberal.

      From what I remember of him in the early 2000s, I don’t think that that earlier Myers would be very proud of the current Pharyngula. But, who knows? I miss the old Pharyngula.

        1. Some warning signs were always there. I think hae was like this from the beginning but didn’t show it until he was enabled by recent years’ events or at the very least he had some predispozition toward this kind of behaviour.

      1. I agree! I have watched his blog evolve (devolve?) from a site that balanced social commentary, humor, and science –> essentially all social commentary. I miss the old version.

        1. I have come this close at least half a dozen times today, to using the word “asshat,” but talked myself down. I am happy to see that you used it so well here.

        2. Ugh, I couldn’t read the whole ignorant post. The whole thing rests on this misguided dualism crap: “No, we are more than our brains and bigger than our bodies”.

          It just hit me how truly dangerous dualism is. I don’t know why I didn’t make this connection before…probably because I surround myself with non-dualists. I need to get out more.

      2. I kind of want to think it’s a failed attempt to parody right wing pundits’ conspiracy theories about how everything Obama and the media does is a distraction. Or that there was a combination of insect and nether regions that could explain it. But it probably is what it appears to be, and no real excuses can be made for it.

      3. “Myers has evolved into a right wing xian fundie’s caricature of an atheist lefty liberal.”

        E x a c t l y.

        He’s the Glen Beck of atheism and his network acts like Fox News.

      4. I thought of it as a “but what about” statement as well. It’s ironic considering how Myers took Richard Dawkins to task not long ago for his “poor muslima” comment where he criticized a feminist for complaining about sexism, and objectification because someone had asked her to coffee in an elevator, while Muslim women suffer “real” problems.

        Apparently Myers thinks such behavior is acceptable only when he does it.

    2. Just wanted to say that I always like, and usually find myself agreeing with, your comments Diana. Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. 🙂

    3. You, once again, are spot on. Let’s say the “media” didn’t run one more piece on Williams – not even a mention – millions of people are still going to light up the internet in order to share what this man meant to them, media coverage or not. This was a sad, strange soapbox for PZ.

  5. Forgotten, but not lost, is the movie of Popeye, with Shelley Duvall, music by Harry Nilsson, screenplay by Jules Feiffer, directed by Robert Altman.

    These are all A list talents, and all of them seem ashamed by the movie. It never gets mentioned I love it and watch it at least once a year. The music by Nilsson is just 90 degrees into another universe. Part satire and part genius. Tom Lehrer mated to Phillip Glass.

    Despite all the negative reviews at IMDB, it has 280 five star reviews at Amazon. And I’m not one of them.

    There’s a cult following in Japan, and it is possible to download alternate recordings of the soundtrack, including rehearsal takes with Nilsson singing.

    1. “I’m mean I’m mean I’m mean
      If you know what I mean!
      (He’s mean he’s mean)”

      Seriously, I haven’t seen that movie in decades and I still remember the music! 🙂

    2. Richard Dawkins mentioned “Popey” in his Williams memorial.
      I thought it caught the flavour of the early cartoons beautifully.
      William’s delivered the look, voice, and caustic asides to perfection.
      The rest of the cast was great and the sets were eyepopping, indeed.
      Leher and Glass, O my!

  6. As an ex-reader of Pharyngula, I wasn’t aware of that post until now. Wow, PZ has really jumped the shark on that one. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be going back there, and I suspect he may lose a lot more readers after this. As you say, it’s just pure narcissistic posing to take the attitude that “Event X has been hyped-up to distract the ignorant proles from Event Y, which I decree to be far more important. Look how concerned I am for pointing this out”. Horrible and despicable.

      1. “Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers.”

        “…that shepherd of Internet trolls, PZ Myers…”

        –Sam Harris

    1. Right. What a shame. He has written eloquently about so many interesting topics for years. But, I feel he’s really let me down on this. I don’t think I’ll be going back. I don’t want to be disappointed again.

    2. I can’t believe he’s talking about a few murders in the US when there’s ISIS engaging in genocide and global warming still looming. Clearly, he’s a shill for ISIS and Exxon, trying to distract us from genocide and climate change. That’s the voice of privilege for you.

    3. I was a reader of PZ way before Prof CC.

      I get where he (PZ) is coming from but he’s been a right arse recently.

  7. Hah, it used to be that criticizing PZ was the third rail of the skeptical community.

    I think some of those cursed with depression often develop a cheery personality as part of their effort to combat the depression. Supposedly Winston Churchill was also a sufferer, yet he’s known for his optimism.

    1. No, the cheery personality is because people do not want to hear about the depression. I have found, in my life-long fight with depression, that most people simply can’t handle the daily blackness of it. This isn’t a slight against them; depression is almost impossible to live with, and is impossible for some people such as Mr. Williams. The cheeriness comes from a desire not to chase everybody away. Depression seeps into every aspect of life, to the point where it sounds like you’re passing the buck on everything and not taking responsibility. My own depression has led to any number of health problems such as weight, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so many sociological problems such as the inability to have healthy relationships, social anxiety, etc. It starts to sound like a bunch of excuses. “It’s the depression,” begins to sound like ducking responsibility even to those who have the malady. Robin Williams once said that taking a Quaalude to go to sleep after taking cocaine was like, “throwing bricks into the Grand Canyon.” A cheery face to stave off depression is much the same thing and I use that metaphor quite often to so many useless things that people try to suggest to battle the depression. No, the cheery face is to protect other people from the depression.

      1. People also get some sort of fatigue with anyone with a chronic illness. They think you should be better and some point and can’t keep giving you sympathy. It happens with all chronic illnesses. This usually results in people with said chronic illnesses withdrawing in some sort of way – not talking about it, socially isolating themselves, self-medicating, faking well-being…pick your coping mechanism.

        1. Well, some people use chronic illnesses as a ploy for sympathy. Old people often do this. They sit around and talk about all the body parts that are failing them. That tends to isolate them from younged people who don’t want to listen to that sort of thing, and it’s got to be self-depressing.

          It might not work for severely depressed people, but most people can manipulate their own moods by thinking appropriate thoughts.

          1. You might consider that “old people” talk about chronic illness because they (unlike young people?) discuss their life experiences. Suggesting that they (we?) pick subjects just as a ploy for sympathy strikes me as profoundly callous.

            May you live long enough to use this clever ploy.

          2. “most people can manipulate their own moods by thinking appropriate thoughts”

            Finally, someone has solved the this huge problem of depression. It just killed one person, and how many more, but, Greg here has the solution.

            Pull your socks up and think the right thoughts (else, “loser”). Well done Greg problem solved.

            1. To be fair, Greg did say, “It might not work for severely depressed people, …” Although it is, I think, a mistake to allow the “might”; clearly, it will not work for people with clinical depression. But for most people without clinical depression… 

              It suggests that one problem re peoples attitudes to clinical depression is the use of “depression” — we all feel “depressed” from time to time, without suffering clinical depression, and know that we can often do things that will alleviate that. Sw, people might easily but uncritically assume that this must be true for people with clinical depression as well.


              1. This is true. When I feel depressed in the colloquial sense, many times watching a funny movie or going or a run or just focusing on something else lifts me out of the funk.

                However, a couple years ago, around the time my long path out of losing my religion took hold, I suffered panic attacks, couldn’t eat and was largely useless for a couple of months. There weren’t any happy thoughts that were just going to magically fix things. As Stephen Fry said, I had to wait for the sun to come back out. Luckily, it did.

                But, it the cases of severe clinical depression, it may not. In my experience with family members with mental illness, part of the treatment doctors have recommended is “going through the motions” and trying to complete daily tasks because the tendency is to put up walls and shut yourself off from society. This can obviously worsen the condition, but going through the motions is far from the fix. It’s just want you have to do until the right combination of medicine and treatment gets you going again.

          3. I think “some people” isn’t actually very many. As someone with chronic pain, I really appreciate the pain my grandmother would complain about – now I get what my grandmother meant when she said her body ached – as a kid, with my new body, I had no frame of reference.

          4. You have things backward, Greg. Old people talk about their illnesses because they are isolated, not the other way around. Give them interesting things to do and social activities to participate in, and they will have other things to talk about.

            As for “thinking appropriate thoughts,” the inability to do this is part and parcel of depression. Not only are you not telling anyone who’s struggled with depression anything they haven’t heard before, but you’re also telling them something that CAN MAKE THEIR DEPRESSION WORSE. Think about it – you’re unable to control your thoughts, you’re unable to take joy in things that should make you happy, you’re accomplishing nothing because you have absolutely no motivation, and someone comes along and tells you to cheer up, think happy thoughts, count your blessings – and that reminds you dramatically that you’re a failure as a human being because you can’t do that. Worse still, reminding a depressed person why he/she should be happy makes him/her feel a deep sense of guilt for being unable to be grateful for the good things in life.

            What seems to be a simple, effective solution to you is an unattainable goal for someone who is isolated by age or disabled by depression. It’s sort of like telling someone in a wheelchair that if they can’t run, at least they can try walking 10 minutes a day.

  8. I’ve been trying to get my head wrapped around why I feel so affected by Robin Williams’ death. I think it’s because when someone is a public figure it’s like anyone who’s seen that person and watched and enjoyed them perform, has a piece of them. Then, when something like this happens, I’m struck with this sense of helplessness and (maybe misplaced?) guilt. It’s tragic that someone so talented and giving in the end couldn’t help himself. And just to be clear – I am putting this into perspective. He didn’t invent a cure for a deadly disease, he didn’t land a plane full of people, etc – he’s an entertainer. That’s something I value though (it looks like PZ doesn’t…) and Robin was very good at it.

    The other thing that I think just adds to the tragedy is that it happened when he was 63. This is a guy that fought some big battles when he was younger and he survived. These are supposed to be the golden years where you reminisce about your younger, wilder days partly for fun and partly as warning for others.

    1. Good thoughts. I agree…when a beloved public figure that one has been familiar with for years or decades dies, it’s as if a part of you dies with them too. You associate memories of those years of your life with that person.

  9. With apologies to an unknown writer of an old poem:

    “And when he wrote about biology, he was very very good, and when he wrote about social justice he was horrid.”

    The man has some serious blind spots. You can find some great science writing on his site, but you have to be careful about the rest.

      1. And whatever you do, do NOT dive into the sharkpool that is the comments section, or you may lose all faith in humanity.

  10. Back in the early 80’s I was in LA on a business trip with my wife, Leslie. We went to the Comedy Store, sat in the front row, and got skewered by the scheduled acts. (Never sit in the front row.) Then, unexpected and unannounced, Robin Williams took the stage and treated us to 45 minutes of hilarious ad lib. I’ll never forget it.

    I’ve had it with P.Z. Meyers. He’s an arrogant, intolerant, nasty person who revels in self-righteous indignation.

    1. Oh yes – never, ever sit in the front of a comedy show. I was fortunate, when I was young, to go to a show with people who warned me that if you do that the comedians will heckle you.

    2. I had a girlfriend in 1973 or so, whose dad took her to Las Vegas for a comedy show and they had a front row table. Nice? The comedian was Don Rickles…

    3. “Robin Williams took the stage and treated us to 45 minutes of hilarious ad lib” – but it was all based on material he knew & had created – he just had the ability to draw on it very quickly.

  11. Yes I just checked out PZ’s post. What was the point except an exercise in extreme cynicism and “pay attention to me” self-centeredness. Pardon me if some of us felt he made an overall very positive contribution to society through his standup comedy, acting and social activism, and therefore we were deeply saddened both by his extreme depression and death. This isn’t the same as dissing other important social issues or celebrity worship. Summing his life up as just another rich white guy, who cares, is truly mean spirited and utterly despicable, so lacking in the empathy he so often likes to brag about.

    1. ….and it’s dehumanizing. Are all “white, rich guys” evil? What about Bill Gates – is he evil? Awful that someone could say things about a fellow human being who had a positive influence on so many people.

      1. Most of us are capable of walking, chewing gum, and a whole lot more at the same time.

        We’re capable too of feeling different things at once.

        I think PZ, in considering himself a bit better than most, underestimates us all.

  12. I’ve had a few friends on FB make the same point P.Z made. We should stop giving attention and publicly caring about Robin Williams’s death because there are more important issues. What we should do is organise some sort of committee to find out what the biggest problems on Earth are and deal with them only a few at a time, ignoring everything else like celebrities and space exploration. My friends on FB and PZ have both gone into full defensive mode.

    I love Robin Williams, he looks so much like my Dad. His performance in One Hour Photo still surprises me. He never stopped being so intense.

    1. This seems to be the latest manifestation of the “no heroes” meme that PZ has been trying spread recently. To reference Robin Williams’ privilege just after he committed suicide was disgusting and the suggestion of a conspiracy was pathetic.

  13. I just noticed some of his ‘followers’ are now done with his increasingly vitriolic and out-of-bounds attacks on what he sees as social injustices and said ‘goodbye’ to his blog.
    (Just like when he lost ‘fans’ over his over-the-top attacks (still going on) on Dawkins)

    Maybe, subconsciously, he realized he went a bit too far, considering his backpedalling in the, for him, numerous replies to his commenters (without admitting guilt of anything, of course).

  14. Well done indeed Jerry to juxtapose Stephen Fry’s letter with PZ’s response.

    For a guy (PZ) who seems to purport to have empathy with troubled people he showed a remarkable lack of empathy with: People who cared about Mr. Williams, Mr. Williams’ family, other sufferers of depression, families of suicides.

    “Oh, yeah, he was a white guy. Bleh — who cares?!”

    I guess you need to have the correct SJW bonefides to receive a normal human response from PZ.

    Now watch him defend his statement to the bitter end …

  15. I have long defended Professor Myers, but this just seems so gratuitous and small-minded, for lack of a better term that I don’t think it is defensible. It was and is perfectly possible to make this point without taking a cheap shot at Mr. Williams. Will Wheaton did a fine job of this by asking news helicopters to relocate from Mr. Williams’ house to Ferguson, Missouri.

    I am fascinated by my own reaction; I don’t normally particularly mourn for celebrities. I find the passing of those I like sad, but this one was a gut-punch I did not expect. I suspect it’s because Mr. Williams seemed to have no filter. Whether true or not, he gave you the sense that you were seeing him as he truly was–the very apotheosis of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve. In that way, I suspect some of us felt we knew him better than we do some of our own friends and even family.

  16. At the risk of being pilloried, I don’t think PZ’s post is being read correctly. Maybe you think it’s in poor taste, and I might agree, but I read it as a bit of social commentary against the modern media apparatus and the machinations of our current political system. Am I missing something? It just seems like the obvious intent when I read it.

        1. As I said on another comment…

          PZ’s comments are no less exploitive of Robin Williams’ death than that which he seeks to point at. His post a shameful example of misdirection. Many, many people are saddened by the news and his response is to say that “the media” in general and the President in particular are out of line for noticing.

          Some of us are capable of being sad at the loss of a great actor/comedian and still recognizing other events in the world. Apparently PZ isn’t up to that level of subtlety.

    1. That’s naive. Myers knew what he was doing. The social commentary was just a schtick to issue a very blatant mean spirited cheap shot for who knows why? He knows it, and unbiased readers know it too.

      1. This is PZ Myers in the comments underneath his OP on Pharyngula:

        “You are sad that Williams is dead? Good. I think it’s terrible that he suffered from depression and died. I am not saying that he was a bad person or that his death is not cause for grief.
        But what I’m seeing, what prompts your whining about cynicism, is that the media have lost all sense of proportion — that the death of a popular entertainer is bigger news than our loss of freedom and our slow steady drift into a police state.”

        And indeed, read through this lens the original post makes 100% sense and contains no vitriol towards Mr Williams. In fact, I fail to see how the post could possibly be read as you suggest it should be, that is, as disdainful of Williams – could you maybe explain that?

        1. Wow, real empathy there. Another example of pure seething contempt, why – what evil did Robin Williams ever do to PZ Myers that he would be so boiled over with anger. I just don’t understand? Is it essentially because he was rich and white? Why do a post like this to begin with.

          He could have easily done a post where he celebrates the life of Robin Williams or at acknowledged that he did a lot of things which people enjoyed, and then gone on to comment on the inadequate coverage of other social issues. But no, the only commentary about Williams was that he was a rich white guy.

          Now you see why I think your reading is quite biased and naive? Why are you defending this?

          1. But Myers is not at all angry at Williams. He’s plainly angry at the media coverage which is silent on a grave social injustice.

            There is bias here, but not on my end. And the only ‘naivety’ in my reading is the refusal to read into PZ’s words the precise contrary of what they say. (Read: “I am not saying that he was a bad person or that his death is not cause for grief.”)

            Also, about the ‘rich white guy’ thing floating around – that wasn’t contemptuous of Williams, but of the media which permanently values lives of ‘rich white guys’ over 18 year old black men.

            1. Right. How are you going to rationalize away the last part of the post of a photo of a woman with her random racists rants with commentary on how she is typical of a person laughing at Williams humor, as anything but open contempt for the man and any of his fans or people who might be saddened by his death. Clearly you need to reread the post and gather in what is really going on.

              1. This is not showing contempt for Robin Williams, but for the media/politicians who need to cater to her sense of grief at the death of Robin Williams (althoug she might equally be convinced that he’ll burn in hell for taking his own life) and who will not pay much note to the overreaction of the police (more a militia now, judging by the pictures in the social media) because it would upset the public in the wrong way.

                I don’t see your comment as grounded in reality.

            2. “There is bias here, but not on my end.”

              That actually made me laugh out loud.

              “Also, about the ‘rich white guy’ thing floating around – that wasn’t contemptuous of Williams”

              Please, Myers and his dwindling posse of SJWs use that phrase constantly as a put down. Anyone even vaguely familiar with his rants and those on his network know that.

            3. There is a serious point in PZ’s post about the media fixating on celebrity at the expense of real social issues but the way he went about it in the posting about Robin Williams was just horrible.

              His characterisation of the media being excited about rich white guys really hits the mark. I mean, Whitney Houston’s death barely raised a ripple in the media… oh, wait, come to think of it, certainly in the UK, she had wall to wall coverage for several days even though she was a black woman.

              Furthermore, although this is a story of a celebrity death, it’s also a story about a person suffering from depression taking their own life. That is also an important social issue. In fact, I’ll bet a pound that many more people in the US commit suicide because of depression than are wrongly gunned down by the police.

              For me, PZ jumped the shark years ago. He still writes well about biology but his social “commentary” is shot through with all the same kinds of fallacies that he accuses pretty much everybody else of. Unfortunately, the nature of his comments section means he rarely sees any criticism from his readers.

          2. It strikes me that PZMyers has a problem with successful people in general. Harris, Shermer, Dawkins etc. Everyone gets to be the witch of the week at some stage, and I daresay our dear Prof CC may have his name on the list of offenders scheduled for the five minutes hate.

              1. PZ desperately wants to inherent the mantle of Hitch as one of the Four Horsemen, and he’s bitter because in hus heart of hearts he knows he doesn’t have a chance.

        2. This is just grandstanding.

          It’s PZ using the death of Williams to tell us how little we care about social justice and how much he cares about it.

          The guy is a waste of space on the internet. I will enjoy watching his slide into oblivion.

        3. “In fact, I fail to see how the post could possibly be read as you suggest it should be, that is, as disdainful of Williams – could you maybe explain that?”

          Are you kidding? How could anyone interpret what Myers wrote and claim in wasn’t a pathetic attempt at diminishing Robin Williams.

          Myers said:
          “…it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction.”

          That’s mocking, pure and simple. Spinning it as anything other than that is intellectually dishonest.

          1. Your sarcasm meter has apparently overloaded a while ago and needs replacing.

            PZ’s post was perhaps too sarcastic, but all the sarcasm is all aimed at the people who know that catering to humans’ hunger for celebrity news brings in more cash/votes than paying attention to more examples of humanity’s rampant tribalism and its deadly consequences. His post was mocking, but not of Robin Williams – whose family might want some reprieve from all the “journalists” who are stationed outside their houses, eagerly awaiting more details on how Williams hanged himself, who found him and when and how.

            And finally, do we really think that Williams’ suicide is going to change the perception of mental illness in society at large, let alone lead to a more empathic approach and better treatment? I, for one, do not.

            1. And finally, do we really think that Williams’ suicide is going to change the perception of mental illness in society at large, let alone lead to a more empathic approach and better treatment? I, for one, do not.

              Take a look at this thread, mate.

              Just because this incident on its own won’t cause a global paradigm shift in regards to treatment and opinion of the disease it doesn’t mean that it won’t make a difference.

              It’s not all or nothing.

              Also what committee do you propose should decide what stories should be reported and how much airtime is fair for each in order for the news to be balanced out properly, in your opinion?

            2. “… aimed at the people who know that catering to humans’ hunger for celebrity news brings in more cash/votes than paying attention to more examples of humanity’s rampant tribalism and its deadly consequences…”

              Whereas the sarcasm should be aimed at those who expect politicians and the press to commit economic suicide by ignoring the desires of the market. To have a more ethical press or government we’ve got to first have a more ethical populace.

            3. “Your sarcasm meter has apparently overloaded a while ago and needs replacing.

              PZ’s post was perhaps too sarcastic,”

              No it’s working fine. His comment was sarcastic and contemptible and dishonest and stupid.

              The defense mounted here by Myer’s fans has been laughable.

              1. His comment was sarcastic and contemptible and dishonest and stupid.

                Well said. I love how sarcasm is somehow used as a cart blanche excuse for PZ to hurl any invective or insult he chooses.

                There are appropriate uses for sarcasm (see last sentence) and inappropriate uses. Needless to say, inappropriate uses include mocking the impact of a suicide and then accusing critics of tone trolling. It’s not tone trolling, it’s criticizing content. If Myers is being sarcastic when he says stuff like “the sacrifice of a rich, white man” then we’re all pretty spot on in our critique of his abhorrent attitude towards the situation.

    2. No, I agree – one can argue that the writing was poor and easily misinterpreted by the skimming reader, but that’s it.

      1. ” one can argue that the writing was poor and easily misinterpreted by the skimming reader”

        The skimming reader? Ah yes, because we read it as it was stated, without using your “special” filter.

      1. “Well, it’s either malice or incompetence. Take your choice.”

        It is both actually. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

    3. I understand what you are pointing out. PZ is struck by the irony of how the news media swings to the next big story, and this one is also a distraction from much larger problems. CNN et al. prioritizes around getting online clicks, and this sort of thing does just that. He is right enough to remark about feeling whip-lashed by the media, but this is what the media will do nowadays.
      But the negative reaction here (and on his site) is, I think, b/c PZ has a constant, unrelenting focus on certain Social Issues. Not everyone wants to be constantly flogged about that stuff. Can’t we take a break from being Angry and just be Sad for a while about the passing of a comic icon? Apparently not!

      1. “Can’t we take a break from being Angry and just be Sad”?

        Sure, individiuals can speak their minds on Twitter and FB etc, on their blogs, and around their kitchen tables.
        They can express their grief, saddness and personal sense of loss, and explain why Robin Williams holds a special place in their heart or memory.

        They can watch Robin williams clips on YouTube and share them on their mobile phones, they can dig out their old VHS tapes and play them for their children, they can set their ring tone to “Goooood morning Vietnam!”.

        I don’t think anybody is saying that these expressions of grief and celebration of the man by his millions of fans is undesirable or inappropriate.

        However, this does not require a statement by POTUS or the lead story of every news programme in the Western world to become Mr Williams instead of the other immediate & pressing issues that are happening today and require immediate action.

        I.e the life or death struggle in Northern Iraq between the Kurdish Peshmega and the murderous fanatics of the ‘Islamic State’.

      2. And, I had the feeling PZ had been so deeply and personally focused on his key issue he was shocked when he suddenly noticed the nation wasn’t paying attention.

      3. The negative reaction also comes from PZ’s attempt at belittling a real tragedy in order to make his point. He could just as well have picked on the Kardashians to make this point, or he could’ve just made the point without trying to belittle anything else. Just tell us what you think deserves more attention, PZ.

  17. It’s PZ. He cannot deal with the fact that anyone admired anyone else. NO HEROES!


    What a horrible way to go through life, to never have a hero. Not blindly idolizing someone, as PZ so very much wants us to think people with heroes do, but to have someone who inspires us in some way.

    I’ve been a fan of Robin Williams since his first appearance on “Happy Days”. I saw his standup not long after, and was blown away at how different he was on stage, how he ignored convention and just…was.

    He did something that PZ desperately, desperately wishes PZ could do: Robin Williams managed, even if only for a few hours, to make people laugh, or cry, or think. He was a masterful actor, able to make you laugh until you cried, or terrify you, or show you some part of your own human condition that you might not have otherwise examined.

    He did this in spite of, or maybe because of, being as fatally flawed and banged up as the rest of us are. Maybe that was what drew so many to him across his career, was that at some point, you saw yourself in Robin Williams.


    What a horrible world PZ lives in, and what a horrible man it has made him.

      1. I only visit that site occasionally, but I think I can already hear PZ’s response to this news flash: You’re so right! We are ALL flawed! I am flawed! I am just soaked through to the bone with white male privilege and first world obliviousness. But I feel guilty about it, at least! I am trying. I’m trying to wash myself clean of my sins.

        That is, he’ll turn it into a humble brag about how flawed he is but, thankfully, he realizes that (unlike you schmucks).

        Here I have to insert the famous and very apt humble brag joke:

        In the village synagogue, during the High Holydays, the rabbi prostrates himself on the floor, saying, “God, before You I am nothing.” Immediately the richest man in town prostrates himself on the floor, saying, “God, before You I am nothing.” Right after that the town beggar prostrates himself on the floor, saying, “God, before You I am nothing.” The rich man whispers to the rabbi,”Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

    1. Tim Minchin echoed the NO HEROES view to me personally in a tweet. Never really felt the same about him afterwards.

  18. I don’t read PZ Myers but I am reminded of the historical novel “The Glass Palace” by Amitav Ghosh, a saga mostly based in Burma. Towards the end Aung San Suu Kyi makes an appearance (whom Amitav Ghosh had met several times) and in the story she is smiling and laughing and one of the characters asks her how can be happy and laughing when she is persecuted, living under house arrest and things in Burma are so terrible etc. And she responds something to the affect of “what is it all for, activism, struggle, fighting for a better world, if not for the chance to laugh and be happy”.

    These are very badly paraphrased, just the gist really, it’s been many years since I’ve read it, and I don’t know if Aung San Suu Kyi actually said this, but wouldn’t be surprised if she did say something like this to Amitav Ghosh. I was very struck by that idea and I keep it in mind when I encounter opinions like PZ Myers’ reported here.

    1. Or a close friend once said, “I did not know that I grew up in a terrible neighborhood (South Bronx, NYC) and family until I left my home and was informed that I had a miserable childhood.”

  19. What a lovely letter from Stephen Fry. It’s wonderful to see such a kind and thoughtful reply – and just what I would hope a good humanist like Fry would do.
    Unfortunately PZ Myers’ response is just what we have come to expect from him.

    1. Hmm, I wonder if this PZ thing is prompting Phil Plait to contemplate knocking the dust off of his “Don’t Be a . . . .”

  20. The point of the Pharyngula post was that the media and POTUS both dodged covering the important topic of institutionalized racism as evidenced by the police murdering Michael Brown, NOT that Robin Williams’ death should not be mourned. It was a criticism of the media spotlight.

    Can someone explain to me how that is not a good objection? Or how the post differs from my summary?

    1. “The point of the Pharyngula post was that the media and POTUS both dodged covering the important topic of institutionalized racism…

      Can someone explain to me how that is not a good objection? “

      It is not a good objection because people would be morning the death of Robin Williams no matter what.

      PZ’s indignant SJW post is predicated on the assumption that Williams is getting special news coverage that he wouldn’t have gotten if he hadn’t died in a week where there was a specific racial issue in the news. There is no evidence to back up PZ’s claim.

      1. No, wait – that’s not at all what PZ’s saying. His point is that when the media is faced with the option to cover either the symptomatic murder of an unarmed 18-year old black man by the police, or the suicide of an older comedian, the coverage of the first (political) story amounts to radio silence.

        PZ is criticising that it is acceptable to stay silent on a matter of great injustice as long as the news is filled with nostalgic throwbacks to a recently passed away comedian.

        And that’s plainly wrong.

        1. “…the coverage of the first (political) story amounts to radio silence.”

          If that is his point, it is wrong, that story has been on CNN every 10 minutes for 2 days. Like someone said, PZ is either malicious or incompetent.

        2. “…either the symptomatic murder of an unarmed 18-year old black man by the police, or the suicide of an older comedian.”

          Well, dominikmiketa, that’s just BS. Talk about your false choice fallacies.

          I watched about three hours worth of news last night. Maybe on third of it was about the death of Williams. The rest was almost all the chaos in Iraq and the events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown.

          Maybe PZ needs to change his TV channel.

        3. Except nobody says it’s acceptable to stay silent on the murder of a black man. I don’t even live in America nor am I American; but I have heard of Michael Brown. So the news is not being suppressed at all. It is all over the media.

          It’s the sort of blogging that looks exactly like a Facebook post of a fact-challenged outrage-junkie: Here’s My Cause, why does all the media ignore My Cause, > insert link to photos and articles posted in the media <

        4. as is the implication that Michael Brown is now being “ignored”. On CNN US right now, his story is the center story. On, it’s the first story in the top ten. Robin Williams is #5. Fox News US? Same thing. Michael Brown is the top story. NPR US? Ditto.

          So where is this “radio silence” coming from? I mean besides PZ’s nethers? Did MORE people know about Robin Williams than Michael Brown? Of course, and to think otherwise is stupid. Would Robin Williams, someone known literally around the world get MORE attention, globally, than a kid from Missouri? Again, of course, don’t be daft.

          Most of Robin Williams’ friends are famous, so the fact that THEY are getting play is similarly unsurprising.

          I care not for what PZ meant in his head or some other location where his “real” meaning lives.

          The facts do not support his assertion. The only thing that supports his assertion is his jealous little heart, upset that HIS cause, that PZ’s priorities aren’t being given the attention they deserve.

          he is a small-minded man, aghast at his lack of global importance.

          1. “that PZ’s priorities aren’t being given the attention they deserve.”

            And like a creationist PZ isn’t going to let facts interfere with his pre-concieved point.

        5. There’s been no radio silence about Ferguson imo. I’m in New Zealand. I’ve seen and heard about since it happened on NZ news, CNN International, BBC World, Al Jazeera, Fox, and Sky News (Australia).

    2. Pretty naive if you read it that way. Robin Williams was essentially just another rich white guy who died, that’s it, don’t you know. No mention at all that he was anything else, or should be thought of as anything else.

    3. Perhaps you can explain to the rest of us how PZ’s comments are any less exploitive of Robin William’s death than the exploitation he is claiming to expose?

      1. I’m not a fan of the way PZ wrote the post, though I support the point he made (which some seem to be actively misreading). So please don’t misconstrue my comments as apologetic of the precise wording of the post. It seems to have raised unintended emotions due to, well, misreadings.

        That said, is pointing out the disparity between media coverage of Williams’ death and the blatant execution of Michael Brown (one among many more) exploitative of Williams? Only in the sense of being topical, it seems to me. He’s not using Williams’ death as a smokescreen, consciously or not, quite unlike the media (and POTUS).

        1. Perhaps you can give sage advice for exactly what the acceptable percentage of coverage would be for Robin Williams’ death?

          And, just so we’re all on the same page, how much coverage did you see of this and other subjects yesterday evening? Because my news watching observations don’t match what you are asserting. Feel free to simply reference PZ’s research on this subject if you like.

        2. I do not think it is right as yet to describe the killing of M. Brown as a blatant execution. There were two conflicting stories out there, and I hope you can agree that the investigation should run its course before we might make conclusions.
          That said, I have carefully listened, as perhaps you have, to the account of Brown’s friend who was there. I was very much struck by how credible he came across, and his description was very troubling. If that account is accurate with ballistics, then yes you would be right to equate this to an execution.

    4. So equating some racist white woman’s despicable post on Facebook with people who may have enjoyed Williams’ work is a criticism of the media? Or Obama? I’m so confused.

      There are plenty of ways that one could make the point that the Michael Brown case is an atrocity deserving of justice, way that may have struck a chord with readers without accidentally insulting them all first.

  21. Wow. I’m trying to figure out why PZ Myers would say that. He must know that it’s going to alienate many if not most readers. It seems to me he has a contrarian streak that automatically searches beneath the surface of things to uncover latent motivations on the part of media personnel. Well, some book once said “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

    The primary interest of the media is to attract readers and viewers. That’s who keep them in business. There is no ulterior motive. I know police brutality exists and is common, and more needs to be done about it. In Las Vegas we get stories about it frequently. But most incidents don’t qualify as national news. And we probably worship movie stars and rock musicians too much (well, we do!) But none of that is justification for the claim that PZ made. It’s silly and low.

    Robin Williams’ death is a tragedy, but no more so than that of anyone else who takes his own life because of severe chronic depression. But his fame should heighten awareness that depression is a killer, and that more needs to be done in the way of treatment and access to same.

    1. I’m trying to figure out why PZ Myers would say that.

      Just last week, recent research was widely reported concluding that many narcissists will freely admit to the fact when asked directly.

      Perhaps you could try this with PZ?

      As for this former Pharyngula reader, I’ll not be back.

    2. The more I think about it, the more I think that PZ is transferring his (justified) disgust and outrage with the situation in Ferguson, and his (justified) disgust and outrage with the media for not covering it adequately, onto people who are legitimately upset over Williams’ death.

      I can see how he may have made that slip. The way the police are handling the situation in Ferguson is abhorrent. But it’s been building up for years. The entire point of a police force is that they aren’t a military force. But the police are treating Ferguson like it’s a battlefield with an enemy population that must be pacified at all costs.

      It’s a travesty.

      That it isn’t being adequately covered in the media is also a travesty. The media is supposed to speak truth to abuses of power. But it’s failing to do so.

      This is why news outlets are becoming more and more irrelevant. They’re not doing their job, so it’s falling to social media to do so. So more and more, we are the media.

      1. I think the problem is that PZ’s post doesn’t seem to recognize the genuine sorrow many fans are feeling and that he’s trying to impose an agenda where there isn’t one.

        Imagine how pharyngula fans would feel if PZ committed suicide and Dawkins wrote a post complaining that they ought to feel more ( or just as ) sorry about police brutality in general and remember that he was just another rich white man.

        PZ’s condolences to friends and family has a very hollow ring to it after that little deucey.

      2. Honestly, Daniel, you should get out more. There has been a lot of coverage of the situation in Ferguson. I watched hours of it yesterday.

        There are real issues with our country’s news coverage. But this is not the example you’re looking for.

  22. Robin Williams raise $50 million for the homeless. When PZ Myers equals that then he can talk. Otherwise STFU PZ.

    I am glad I stopped reading his cesspool a while ago.

    1. Other things Robin Williams did to make the world suck a little less:

      Fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, along with visits to the facilities themselves.

      Comic Relief

      The Christopher Reeve Paralysis foundation

      Giving 100% of the proceeds from his NZ shows to help after the Christchurch Earthquake.

      He spent a lot of time and money giving back to the people who gave him his fame and fortune.

      and all PZ can do is froth because…

      1. … because the half-dozen prissy toads that read his bl*g these days ain’t paying the rent and he needs a little click-bait to supplement that failed book of his.

        His descent from Champion of Reason™ to Insignificant Internet Troll™ has been rather remarkable.

      2. He even helped out the littlest of animal rescue sites, Handsome Dan’s Rescue, providing items for an auction fundraiser. He was a mensch.

    2. If I never EVER hear PZ mentioned again it will be way too soon.

      Let’s get back to mourning and praising Robin, and the wonderfully heart-warming statements of Stephen Fry.

  23. No guys. You see, he was just making a statement about how screwed up corporate media is, by belittling a tragedy while comparing it to another tragedy. You might say he said, “X is bad, Y is worse; but I’m ACTUALLY talking about the media”.
    Either way, there’s no excuse for it. It’s despicable.

  24. I think what PZ is saying can be easily summarized using the logical framework set up by Richard Dawkins:

    “Death by suicide of a famous comedian is bad. Racism and trampling of civil rights by brutal police force is worse. If you think that is endorsement of death by suicide, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically”.

  25. Robin Williams was a great actor. I loved him the most in his more serious/damaged roles. A movie of his that I particularly love is “What Dreams may Come”. Visually stunning, and heartbreaking, which a touch of hope. Pure fantasy, of course, but still one of my favorites.

    Farewell, Sir.

    As to Myers: no comment needed, his words speak for themselves.

    1. Look, can we lay off the name-calling, please. This thread, while decrying the sentiments espoused by P.Z., wasn’t intended to be a referendum of him as a person, or of his website as a whole. Any more comments like this will be deleted.

  26. Thanks, Jerry, for the link to Fry’s letter – very poetic. Williams’ death puts much of my teen and adult life into a context I don’t much like to consider as I get older (loss of family and friends…my own mortality).

    On the other hand, I haven’t spent nearly the same amount of time reflecting on the death (and terrible circumstances) of Mike Brown. PZ pointed out this inconvenient truth in his post by highlighting the relative silence in our media and with President Obama. I found nothing shameful in PZ’s post, other than the personal shame I feel for caring more about the death of a white celebrity (who lived a prosperous and long life) than an anonymous black man (who lived in poverty and was killed at an early age).

    I guess one could argue that state-sponsored, racially-motivated police murder (stuff that happens regularly and on such a massive scale) should AT LEAST receive as much attention as depression-related suicide.

      1. I agree that PZ’s post wasn’t well crafted, and I’m glad to finally see some conciliation in the comments, jblilie.

        On that note, thank you Mark, for putting in words so well what I’ve been trying to convey above.

        1. PZ has to have a completely tin ear (or is now so narcissistic he can’t tell or doesn’t care) not to know that these kind of statements are offensive:

          “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction.”

          “thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.”

          How else does he expect anyone to take these comparisons? He wants to trivialize the event.

    1. No one denies that. Myers could have done this in a way that doesn’t dis the memory or life of Robin Williams. It’d be nice if we lived in a much fairer world. 99% of the lives of the people in the US much less the world don’t get mentioned except in obituaries and by their families. This also includes many prominent scientists a vast majority who get barely a mention in the national news if at all when they die. I might be mistaken, by I recall when Erst Mayr died, there was no mention in the major news that he died, or even existed, even though he was one of the most prominent evolutionists of the 20th century. I found out about it months later by chance. This goes for all kinds of great writers and others who make great contributions as well who are less in the public. We live in a celebrity culture. That is too bad, where only celebrities actually live real lives. This is a tragedy in and of itself but I don’t have any clear remedies to change this. Dissing the life of Robin Williams wont’ solve this problem. Especially dissing a person who had no real malice for anyone as far as I can tell, and was appreciated by and large by the public.

      1. A quick check reveals that there were Mayr obituaries in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian…

        Most TV news stopped being news long ago.

        1. J. G. Ballard (_Crash_, _The Drowned World_, _Empire of the Sun_) on TV news: “It’s not news … it’s entertainment news. A documentary on brain surgery is about entertainment brain surgery. But then again, maybe the vital discoveries are going to be made in the area of entertainment brain surgery.’”


    2. “I guess one could argue that state-sponsored, racially-motivated police murder…”

      I guess you set yourself up as judge and jury and settled who is at fault without the evidence.

      That is a problem with so many people who expect instantaneous resolution of everything.

    3. we care more about person a than person b all the time. Had Michael Brown not been shot by the cops in such a shameful circumstance, we’d not care about him at all, unless we knew him.

      Most of the people saddened by Robin Williams’ passing didn’t know him. But in some way, he touched their lives.

      There is nothing wrong with being MORE saddened by one than the other, regardless of which it is, based on your personal background. BOTH are dead for no “good” reason. Both have left behind family and friends who will forever ask “why?”. Both were unfairly taken from the people who cared about them.

      To spit on those who are more directly affected by one than the other, as PZ did, is small, stupid, and mean.

      I only hope that if some tragedy befall’s PZ at a time when some “greater” tragedy is happening in the world, and he chooses to focus on his personal tragedy first, that the people who respond are not like him. Even he doesn’t deserve that.

  27. The blogs of Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Sam Harris and several others that I follow have become quite tribal. Maybe they’ve always been that way. I first noticed it with the “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?” post by Harris. The wagons circled with the vast bulk of the Coyne and Harris blog commenters supporting Israel and Myers blog commenters criticizing Israel. A similar tribalism is occurring with the Robin Williams story. There is near universal condemnation of Myers on this blog despite the fact that he is making a valid point – the media is giving round the clock coverage to the tragic death of a celebrity while ignoring other tragedies of much greater import to society. I suspect that if Jerry Coyne had made this same observation in today’s post few if any of his “tribe” would have condemned him.

    1. Why focus on riots in the US when there is much worse violence elsewhere?

      Crying “but there is other bad things!11!” is totally unproductive because it can be taken further and further out into absurdity.

      Ebola, climate change, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria are all bigger than riots over one black man’s death.

      You see where I’m going with this? Where do we stop? What is or isn’t worthwhile to report on? At what point do we draw the line?

      I might as well say “Well we can’t report on any of these! Somewhere out there a bunch of space aliens are fighting an intergalactic conflict! Surely this is greater than our measly Earthling problems! And if you think otherwise you’re Earthist”.

    2. I agree that PZ’s point is valid, but it is ill-served by banging out a quick blog post that is, at best, ham-fisted.

      He could have (and old PZ probably would have) crafted the same message in a much more reasonable manner.

    3. I don’t think this is true at all. I respectfully disagree with Sam Harris take on Israel. I’m sure if I posted why I might get some heated disagreement on the issue, but I wouldn’t be roundly be called various and sundry epithets for my disagreement. In fact I am sure if I used epithets in a post I would be booted out for being rude and using personal attacks. Me thinks you are greatly mistaken in your analysis.

    4. When a well-known celebrity dies, especially in a tragic, unexpected way such as suicide, that story is going to dominate the news cycle for a time. So what? It means nothing in terms of social issues.

    5. Have you read the comments on Israel on this site? Not everyone agreed. It’s condescending to suggest that we only agree with Jerry.

      1. Yes. I very much disagree with Prof CC and some of the regulars here. Oh, and Sam Harris.

        I *very nearly* Fisked a response on the last thread but probably would have got banned for it! I am not getting involved in those threads as it makes me volcanically angry.

        Admittedly I also only cursorily read Pharyngula these days. I really can’t be bothered with the drama.

        And, just to put the 3rd point on my crown, Richard Dawkins has come out with a load of daft stuff too… 😉

    6. Are you posting from a hole under a rock on Pluto or something? The media is not ignoring other tragedies. It’s all over the news all over the world.

    7. I just don’t see it. In fact I don’t see how you can reasonably support your claim, except for the fact that there is a large subjective component to it. What I saw at the websites you mention, on the topics you reference, was a distinct lack of concensus. Notably, even among regulars that often agree on other topics.

      If I had to characterize the comments I’d say there were at least three sizable general categories comprising the majority of comments, with several other smaller categories scattered about.

      Regarding the Robin Williams story, PZ’s only valid point is that the media can be said to, in general, suck. The part that is supposed to be key, that there is no, or a trivial amount of coverage of the Mike Brown story, but the typical nonstop coverage of a celebrity story, is clearly false. The Mike Brown story is also a top story. And if recent past history is anything to go by, it will continue to be for much, much longer than the Robin Williams story. That the coverage will, generally, suck and be less than accurate is true for both of these stories, and of all news, generally speaking.

      Disparaging a decent person as a setup for a social commentary article based on a false claim is not a laudable thing to do. Even if your heart is in the right place and you don’t really think too badly about the setup guy, or people who think that his life and contributions to society, such as they are, are worthy of some bit of their attention.

    8. Commenters don’t get abused for a difference of opinion here. One glance at comments on PZ’s blog will make most people who feel differently back away, an aggressive stance that PZ openly encourages. And he sounds more like Ann Coulter than Jerry C.

  28. It’s events like this that drive home the message that mental illness is serious business, outcomes always uncertain, but compassion and empathy always needed.

    I know we’re all prisoners of our brain chemistries, and that is truly frightening. Frightening also, is when the problems are getting slowly, inexorably worse as time goes by – esp. when so many hold you up as an opinion leader. I can only hope that Myers recognizes that a sabbatical from opinion-leading would be in his best interests, and I hope that he gets the professional help he desperately needs. …Or if he is already in therapy, that they get to the root of that vicious hatred and self-loathing. “The Happy Atheist”, indeed.

    1. Nice armchair diagnosis. By the way, I did not notice any self-loathing in his posts. Could you provide some examples?

      1. Seems to disparage white males a heckuva lot, esp. if they’re rich, and no matter what their accomplishments. Since he seems to be an accomplished white male himself, and not exactly poor by third world standards…

        We have a similar situation here with a conservative hate group called “Focus on the Family”, where many of the most interested, vocal, and politically active members — working diligently to demonize gays — regularly turned out to be closeted homosexuals themselves.

        It took me a while to figure out what was behind such behavior besides the obvious (political power to be had, money, fame and the slack-jawed admiration of sycophants) — and have concluded that there absolutely HAD to be a good measure of self-loathing there, brought on by unconscious acceptance of vile community norms long adopted by the group one wants to lead.

        To my knowledge there have not been similar studies of gender feminists’ and other SJW’s effects on atheist bloggers, but this is likely due to a small N associated with the phenomena. Such a study would likely consist of a single anecdote and wouldn’t merit publication, at least in a reputable journal.

        Amazing what one can sus out if one has a really nice armchair handy.

    1. The idea of suicide being a coward’s way out is not new. But it applies more to those who wish to avoid facing the consequences of their actions (the typical mass shooter/suicide for example) than to people who are suicidally depressed.

    2. Many years ago, a local DJ went on a rant when the lead singer of INXS committed suicide. He called him a coward over and over.

      That guy was fired the next day and in not time the station changed formats.

      1. Another perfect example, due to the visibility that comes with celebrity, of how vicious Depression is. A beautiful man with a beautiful wife and daughter, acknowledged by peers and fans as one of the best voices in Rock & Roll, lead man of an extremely successful group, wealthy. He seemingly had it all, except for Depression.

  29. There are all kinds of axes of privilege and oppression and being white or rich doesn’t compensate for mental illness.

    Sneering at those who care about someone who’s depression was so severe he took his own life is no better than sneering at someone outraged by the death of a black teenager killed by racists.

    PZ is wallowing in his neurotypical privilege.

  30. Very sad about Robin Williams.

    My reasons for stop reading P.Z long ago has now been confirmed – atheist or not!

  31. I read PZ’s post as more of a comment on the media, but it is, at best, ham fisted and insensitive. At worst, it really is contemptible.

  32. It is not as though we don’t care about the injustice of police brutality, or even that we are not also upset with the media or our President when they fail to address evils of that kind. But it is human, and morally okay, to mourn more acutely for the tragic loss of someone to whom we are emotionally connected than for the tragic loss of a perfect stranger. To be sure, there will always be some horrible political or violent thing happening that deserves our ethical indignation, yet we cannot ignore all of our personal tragedies because of it.

    Professor Myers is not being fair, or consistent. He knew it was wrong for Richard Dawkins to write “Dear Muslima,” telling us our complaints about local evils were misplaced because there exist other, larger evils. Today Professor Myers is wrong by his own account. The people who loved the slain teen from Ferguson are mourning, and the people who loved Robin Williams are mourning; neither group needs a third party to turn their tragedy into a political ploy.

    As far as depression goes, I have struggled with it for more than a decade. Clinical depression does not get cured, only treated. While we may have great days like anyone else, there is always the tripwire somewhere waiting, too easily triggered. I have confronted suicide before, and am grateful to have had enough of a grip on my senses at the time to fight it, but it frightens me to know that someone I loved and emulated could still become its victim so late in life and with so much more to live for than I had as a teenager. I take time these days to counsel other depressed youth and teach them strategies for coping and resisting suicide. Something I have not yet figured out how to include in the counseling is the admission that the potential for these feelings will never fully fade.

    1. I beg your pardon. I’m “paej13” from the previous Williams post, and still getting the details of WordPress stuff down.

  33. I liked Robin Williams stand up best. Sheer genius. As someone who has suffered from severe mental illness myself, I can understand the pain, isolation and despair that it will never get better that would make someone take their own life. I’m glad I finally got the right kind of help. I wish Robin and as well.

    Mental illness is exactly that, an illness. You can’t just want to get better and magically get better. That doesn’t work with heart disease or diabetes. It won’t work with depression, eating disorders or emotional disorders either.

    I suffered from PTSD acquired in combat in Iraq in 2005. It’s gotten worse and worse over the years. If you’d asked me two years ago, where I thought I’d be today my answer would have been ‘just another homeless veteran’. My anger was endless; my memory, concentration, and sleep were virtually nonexistant. I couldn’t remember the names of friends I’d known for decades and interacted with on a daily basis. I had crippling migraines a few times a week, sometimes lasting a week or more. I was having trouble at work, alienating my friends, unable to maintain relationships, etc.

    I was doing everything I cold to fix myself but nothing worked. I’ve seen psychiatrists and psychologists. I’ve self medicated with alcohol to sedate myself and numb the pain. I was prescribed several different medications to control my PTSD symptoms, others to help me sleep and still more for the constant pain of some physical injuries.

    None of that worked. No matter how much I wanted to get better, nothing helped. I was doing everything right but getting worse and worse year by year, month by month.

    Then my psychiatrist saw Dr. Walker give a presentation at a neuroscience conference. She referred me to him. He agreed with my pre-existing diagnosis of severe PTSD, severe insomnia, and migraine headaches. He also diagnosed me with a mild traumatic brain injury.

    After 16 months of neurotherapy, my crippling migraine headaches are gone. My memory is good. I can focus at work and just got the best yearly performance rating and raise in my career. I sleep great. I’m cool calm and collected in every situation. I can deal with personal loss having just suffered one on August 1st.

    I’ve referred several friends and they’ve had significant improvement too.

    I long for the day that the experimental neurotherapy I’ve received is commonplace and the diagnostic procedure I went through is a part of everyone’s annual checkup.

    Dr. Walker saved my life.

    He’s located in Dallas TX. If you aren’t, contact his office and ask for a referral to someone doing the same thing in your area.

    1. Echoing Dan Dennett, Thank Goodness for your huge improvement. It is very good to hear your story. And thank goodness for the researches that led to Dr. Walker’s experimental neurotherapy. Thank goodness that Dr. Walker was seen by your Dr. and that she had the knowledge and wits to recognize the possible import for you. And thank goodness that the experimental therapy was effective for you in easing your long suffering.

      For several reasons, brought a tear to my eyes.

      1. I’ll just second darelle’s post here and add that it is very encouraging ( bizzarely as that may sound ) that many other readers here also are battling mental health issues and aren’t afraid to share their stories.

        From the top of my heart, thank you guys ‘n gals. There’s good and bad days and reading this thread just made it one of the former.

        1. I definitely see less stigma from ~20 years ago when I went through my stuff. I find it’s this ridiculous dualism crap that seems to real throw a wrench into further progress.

          1. I agree. Our culture sees randomness and things being out of control in nature… when you stub your toe… your house gets demolished by a tornado… or you need an appendix removed.

            But the brain/body relationship is different… at the heart of it all are our little leprechauns pulling the strings that we all have complete control over. So if there’s something wrong with your body, you’re in the clear. Something wrong with your mind, that’s “your” fault. (you = your leprechaun).

            And most people I know seem to think the mind/body dualism & free will arguments are unimportant details far removed from practical reality. In fact, they define social reality, impeding progress at every turn.

      2. I will also second darrelle’s post. I think I remember you telling us about your experiences in an earlier post ages ago and I’m glad you are still doing well! Congrats on the career success as well!

  34. Even for PZ Myers, this was a reprehensible statement. How he still receives invitations to speak at atheist/skeptic conferences I am at a loss to understand. I guess he’s happy as long as Improbable Joe and Caine and SallyStrange and all the other buffoons tell him how great he is…

  35. Nobody so far has mentioned one of his greatest roles, as the genie in Aladdin. The Disney people really tailored the script and animation to him, as the genie is constantly riffing, complete with physical transformations to fit.

    Maybe nobody else here had kids at the proper time, because I’ve seen that movie at least 100 times.

    1. A magnificent role indeed. I think someone mentioned it yesterday in Jerry’s first post after RW’s death. I don’t have kids, but I still love animations, and Aladdin is one of the best.

    2. If memory serves me, they gave him the script, he ad libbed most of it and they animated the genie to match his ad-lib.

      1. Apparently this was one reason why there was not Oscar nomination for the script – William made most of it up on the spot and it was all glued together for the movie!

    3. And what about Fern Gulch: the Last Rainforest, in which he does the voice of the batshit bonkers bat? Saw it with my young kids ( maybe 20 years ago) and laughed myself silly. These critters had never seen humans and the bat describes them as something-or-other in unfortunate shorts:-) clearly lots of adlib in this one.

  36. Oh, might I suggest that if you want to beat on PZ Myers, the best place to do that is on his own blog? I agree that was a bizarre and insensitive post, but take it up with him.

    1. LOL, are you freaking serious? Any disagreement or criticism of Peezus will get you banned and your comments deleted in no time. The coward will not allow dissent at his blog.

        1. Comments deleted? Maybe, maybe not. But banned for disagring with PZ over anything even tangentially related to Social Justice Warrior topics absolutely. I was banned over just such an issue.

          Why would Jerry need to disagree with PZ in PZ’s uncivil and profane bl*g comment forum? Jerry has his own website for commenting on various topics. And if disagreeing in the comments section is such the good idea, then PZ can send some comments (appropriately civil for this venue) this way.

          1. Apologies if it seemed as if I was advising Jerry to respond in PZ’s blog. No, I was talking to the commenters exclusively.

            This is probably not the proper place to discuss why you were banned.

            1. So according to you people won’t get banned there, but when they tell you they have been. They shouldn’t discuss it here. I can see how that logic works in your favor.

        2. There’s nothing doubtful about it. There are numerous documented examples of Myers banning people for criticizing his posts or those of his flock.

          He even had a dungeon (a list of dissenters) that he boastfully added to with his mighty “ban hammer” (no I’m serious, he actually calls it a ban hammer).

          Other than far right fundy Christians, nobody censors debate in his echo chamber as frequently as Myers.

            1. Above you “doubt” it, now you “suspect.” Maybe you should stop guessing that the commenters here are lying. I’ve seen people banned for politely disagreeing with PZ. In fact, he appears more likely to ban intelligent disagreement than to ban insulting, semi-coherent disagreement. His typical approach is to tell a dissenter that they are “a stupid fuckwit” for not agreeing with him. If you then point out that he hasn’t addressed your argument, you get banned for being “an ignorant fucktard.” Then someone takes offense at the suffix -tard, and it gets changed to “douchnozzle.” Then someone objects to “douchnozzle” and on and on it goes. (Ok that very last part is an exaggeration for comedic effect, but the rest is accurate.)

              1. Yeah, as over the top as that might sound to outsiders that is actually a pretty literal account of how it goes, right down to the invective. PZ does not like rational argument if it isn’t in his favor.

              2. Yes, as crazy as this sounds it is true. The best part is once a person is banned their lack of responses to future posts are cheered as a win. Whaaa?

            2. Well your suspicion is demonstrably false and naive. Myers has banned many people based on disagreement and criticism of his ideology.

              You won’t receive email from him explaining the reasons for banning, that would be too intellectually honest for him.

              Usually he swings his mighty ban hammer and then mutters MRA! Misogynist! Pariah! Witch!

    2. I have done so many times in the past. But alas there comes a time when trying to debate with sycophants gets really tiresome, so one gives it up, like quitting smoking.

  37. Any chance to turn something into an “outrage” is a win for PZ Myers. No doubt he’s happily watching his traffic spike as we speak. Just like the media/politicians he condemns, he needs to manufacture a little outrage every so often to keep himself relevant. For a given value of “relevant,” that is. Like many, I stopped visiting his site long ago…no point in feeding his out-of-control ego.

  38. I will wade into the hornet’s nest. (I have not read Myers nor pretend to defend what he has said.)

    The sympathy felt for Robin Williams flows from who he is, and not the incidence of his death, though we may feel greater sympathy for him as compared to some other actor who dies of natural causes late in life. As merely to the sadness of a life taken early, there are plenty to mourn. Which means that most people take up such a connection to this individual because they believed he achieved something that makes him more deserving than others who died equally tragically yesterday. Of course, probably more saliently, is just the idea that we are personally attached to him because he is a public celebrity, thus we have seen him and known him, but what is being called into question is exactly why this peripheral attachment, which gets duly attached in the normal “relationship” centers of the brain I would guess, should be a good policy for structuring our selves or for organizing social structures. Is it useful that I see Robin Williams “as a friend”? Is it useful for a well-formed society that we take emotional angst as to Williams’s death while ignoring the myriad of other tragic deaths in our society? A gnawing part of me says it is a problem.

    Getting outside personal attachment, the idea that a qualified actor, or a U.S. Congressperson or highly successful businessperson should bring great concern to us as individuals because society has been deprived of their talents; first, does not feel like the main driver behind such outpouring sentiments, and secondly, is probably overstated and really not that big of a blow to what they had to contribute, in the overall scheme.

    The actions that many people are driven to because of such dynamics,say ensuing fundraisers, also strikes me as a quirky way to arrange our selves, something that we should be able to reflect on and ask whether such is appropriate. Which is not to deny fundraisers or the such, but just ones based on such haphazard social incidences. Nor is it to deny our emotional sides, only their haphazard effluence.

    1. Truly, I think the sympathy flows from what people recognize, in themselves, and in their family and friends, of depression. We’re all struck that such an amazingly entertaining persona should have been projected by someone wracked by depression to the point of suicide.

      1. My high school science teacher committed suicide and he was the funniest, friendlist, caring guy you’d ever meet. Incidentally, he was also a holy man (I can’t remember the religious designation but a protestant minister of some sort). He suffered from terrible depression. I bet there are a lot of people who do or have suffered in their lives and because of stigma, we don’t hear about it.

            1. He tells it already. 😉

              We were commiserating about how many wackos one finds in the mental health field–many of us had stories to tell but his took the cake.

      2. Ken: I do not think your lesson is the reason this gets so much play. It is fairly common knowledge that all sorts of people have depression, perhaps more so those whose life is going poor, but certainly also those whose life is going well or who provide some special social benefit. Those stories that do not cross the threshold of everyday celebrity persona, but who otherwise have had significant success, are simply abandoned into the air. And most people would only give you a passing nod if you tried to relate such a tale, of a successful person who happened to be depressed and committed suicide.

        It is (empty?) personal attachment that carries the weight here, and it is questionable why we should let such attachments move us or why we should give such unreflected purchase to such emotions, as compared to more generalized or non-celebrity issues or other people (who also have depression). Or why these thoughts and emotions should structure our selves and social structures in the manner they do.

        1. Lyndon. You’re talking like a Vulcan.

          You can’t seriously wonder why an almost western-society consensus mourn the loss of someone whom they have seen over their lifetimes acting in numerous roles often synthesizing their thoughts on love, life, relationships, struggle, etc. etc. ad infinitum, and defining generations of culture. Do you seriously doubt that this carries more emotional weight than the death of an individual that they did not know of entirely?

          Perhaps you don’t appreciate the millennia old and powerful role of storytelling and fiction in the lives of this species of mammals?

          If you can’t grasp why any of this might be the case, I think it might do you more good to either a) Put your point in a way that those who don’t seem to get it, might under understand better; ie. play to your audience (as Robin Williams did so well).
          Or b)Sit back for a bit and try to understand why people feel so deeply about the man. Which should then, if you persist, help you out more with A.

          But to answer your original query: in the end, the reason this is getting so much play, is because people have been personally (read: emotionally) and profoundly effected by Robin Williams work. I urge you to not discount, nor downplay this, even if you yourself are not susceptible to it.

          1. I second this. As a rule, I despise the contemporary pop obsession with celebrity culture. But there is a huge difference between the tragic death of a famous artist who possessed and practiced very unique talents and (e.g.) obsessing over the weight of a Kim Kardashian-type celebrity who is merely famous for being famous.

            And the nature of the death does have a significant role to play.

            If I was reading two obituaries of average non-famous people whom I had zero connection with, and one was a 22 year old man who committed suicide after battling mental illness, and the other was a 91 year old man, beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. They would both be sad, but I would feel more for the 22 year old. That seems a pretty natural outcome from our empathy.

        2. Depression doesn’t discriminate. When I was clinically depressed in my early 20s, someone told me that I shouldn’t be depressed because I was pretty. Yeah, thanks – tell that to my brain chemistry. That says more about the person making the comment than the sufferer of depression.

          1. My friend Raven used to say the “pretty” often have *more* trouble because (say) physical attractiveness is sometimes (to some people) intimidating, hence socially isolating, etc.

  39. I am extremely sad by Robin Williams’ death. But as Jerry said, what it brought out in the readers here is truly inspiring and filled with the best humanity has to offer. I’m so happy to be able to read everyone’s memories, opinions, emotions, intimate stories, and tidbits regarding his many roles. My wife and I saw him doing a stand-up performance in Denver, CO (2004 iirc). It was truly one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed. We were laughing so hard that I swear I only caught half of what he was saying. A true comic genius, and surprisingly, a dramatic genius as well. His “break-out” dramatic role was of course Dead Poet’s Society. He shocked the world with that performance. How could someone so funny play a dramatic role with such passion and intrigue? As many point out here, his dramatic roles were his best displays of his genius. But one line from Mrs. Doubtfire I love to say is “wanna see my imitation of a hot-dog?” Damn, that just cracks me up for some reason. I said it to my wife this morning. She laughed with tears in her eyes.

    1. One of the things that I truly appreciated about Mrs Doubtfire was that it was one of the first movies that didn’t try to wedge in a Disney-approved happy ending for the estranged couple. They went through with the divorce, and life went on. I thought that was such a valuable thing for families to see on screen.

      1. I agree with you…but the ending where the family was watching Mrs. Doubtfire on the television was Disney-esque in that it still choked me up. 🙂

      2. This is entirely off-topic, but when someone defends Mrs. Doubtfire, I feel compelled to reply that I despise that movie. The message seems to be that it’s alright to rip your family apart because, you know, the kids will be OK. I appreciate that it is necessary for women to have the means to free themselves from an abusive marriage, but MD seems to suggest that the man responsible is just misunderstood.

  40. PZ Myers may well be making a valid point about where the media’s attention lies. It is factually correct that Robin Williams was a rich, white guy; I guess he is being sarcastic when he writes “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction”; it is extremely odd to refer to his suicide as “his sacrife” but again, I guess this was irony.

    But surely Myers could have spared one sentence to say something positive and kind about Robin Williams.

    1. Except that he isn’t making a valid point. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world knew who Robin Williams was yesterday. Of course his tragic death made the news.

      Very few people in the world knew who Michael Brown was yesterday (in the same way that almost nobody knows who I am or you are). But millions know of his tragic and unjustifiable death today. Because of the media. There is no cover-up, no ignoring of an unfashionable story.

  41. Where the fuck does PZ Myers get off saying that the death of a “wealthy white man” distracts us from other issues (or that this doesn’t focus worthy attention on the very important issue of mental health? Surely, as a well-educated scientist, he has to recognize the human capability to focus on more than one issue.

    Most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. We needn’t worry about our jaws distracting focus from our legs.

        1. Watch for the double-down. He doesn’t seem to be understanding what people are saying. Or possibly he isn’t reading dissent at all.

  42. My husband and I were deeply shocked and saddened at the news of Robin Williams’ death, we both admire him greatly.

    Having suffered of severe depression in the past, I can understand what he must have gone through. In my case, I was not so much longing to die, I was more desirous of not living – which is a very different thing.

    Stephen Fry, a brilliant man with a great sense of humour, has been openly talking about his condition – Bipolar Disorder. Here are two links (YouTube) you might find interesting:

    Part 1: Stephen Fry The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive

    Part 2 : Stephen Fry The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive

    I first got to know about Bipolar Disorder back in 1970 (when it was called Manic Depression) when I met a wonderful, intelligent and creative young man during one of his manic stages. We became very close, and I used to visit him in a psychiatric hospital when his depressive periods took over. I have several friends who are Bipolar and I have seen what great suffering that condition brings them.

    Spike Milligan, that most brilliant and funny comedian, used to spend six months a year in psychiatric hospitals, and I suspect that Peter Sellers too was Bipolar.

    My deepest condolences to Robin Williams’ wife, children and friends.

  43. Two conclusions.
    1) Stephen Fry is an even better person than I thought he was and my opinion of him was already up above the stratosphere.

    2) If I were to design a mechanism for discrediting and damaging atheism, I’d probably invent FTB. Not that I think anything conspiratorial is going on, it’s just that FTB is that bad a reflection on atheists. I’m a liberal. I’ve vociferously criticized police abuse and I feel like I need a shower after reading PZ Myers’ drivel.

    1. The problem with Myers and FTB is that it has conflated atheism with a hardline, outspoken and frankly rabid promotion of mostly LGBT, feminist and social issues. Woe betide anyone who disagrees with his stance or his interpretation of some event since he has a legion of fans ready to squash dissent.

      It all gets very boring very fast. My advice is to leave them to it.

      1. The promotion of LGBT, feminism and other social issues is not an excuse for insensitive rant. Not at all. It is possible to be empathetic to multiple groups of people at the same time.

        1. DrXym was not being insensitive nor was he saying that promoting LGBT or women’s rights issues is a problem. It is the manner in which those issues are being dealt with at FTB that is the problem. There exists on the internet, particularly on FTB, a flat-out misandrous form of feminism that is built on dubious statistics and a warped view of masculinity. Myers and many of the other denizens of FTB assert that if one is to be an atheist, a liberal and champion of equal rights, one must subscribe to their POV. As a liberal, an atheist and a champion of equal rights I find this to be incredibly arrogant. When I have expressed a rational, objective dissenting opinion, I have been, told to fellate myself to death, in very graphic language, many times and this is but one of many vaguely pornographic methods suggested to me by the feminists at FTB for shuffling myself loose this mortal coil. I’ve been called a sexual predator sympathizer and a rape apologist. I’ve even been accused of being a rapist and sexual predator with no qualification at all.
          When someone, under the banner of humanism and atheism responds to an objective, factually sound criticism, or even just a request for empirical support for their claims with a vicious and profane personal attack, it is galling and it reflects poorly on our community. It’s abusive and people need to be able to speak to these malignancies without being accused of being insensitive for it.

          1. As a staunch old-school feminist, this modern crap infuriates me. I feel about it the way Sokal feels about how post-modernism is endangering and besmirching the causes and ideals of traditional liberalism.

            1. Thank you for writing this. One of my favorite professors from college Dr. Mulvaney is also a “staunch old-school feminist” and she shares your (and my) opinion of modern feminism, right down to the rebuke of post-modernism. Unfortunately you and she are the only women I’ve ever known to make the distinction between feminism as a campaign for equal rights and feminism as internet invective. I’m sure that there are many, many more women who hold this point of view, I just wish I heard their voices more often.

      2. That’s good advice and I have left them to it. It is disappointing to see the very irrational way that the denizens of FTB launch entirely emotional and all too personal attacks against those whom do not agree with their unfounded orthodoxy. As if atheists should ever subscribe to ANY kind of orthodoxy. Thankfully, we have WEIT.

  44. The attention paid to Williams death is the result of two things:

    1) The joy he brought us through his work.

    2) The spectacular advertising opportunity his death brings by checking all the boxes…. fear, hopelessness, victimhood…. life is short so spend, spend, spend.

    I never much cared from Myers, but to ignore or deny the latter is to embrace a cherished delusion.

  45. My hunch has been that Robin Williams was a brilliant talent despite his demons not because of them so I was gratified to read this in a Scientific American blog:

    “Robin Williams’s Comedic Genius Was Not a Result of Mental Illness, but His Suicide Was”

    By Scott Barry Kaufman | August 12, 2014 |

    “Of course, the media is writing a lot today about the link between mental illness and creativity in light of Robin Williams’ suicide.

    Here’s the thing: Williams’ comedic genius was a result of many factors, including his compassion, playfulness, divergent thinking, imagination, intelligence, affective repertoire, and unique life experiences.

    In contrast, his suicide was strongly influenced by his mental illness.

    This romanticism of mental illness needs to stop. The media needs to offer accurate views of what it’s like to have a real debilitating mental illness and make a call for more funding to support those who are suffering instead of focusing on cutesy connections to genius that are not even supported in the scientific literature.”

  46. As a teenager, I adored ‘Mork and Mindy’. My enduring memory is of Mork throwing eggs in the air and crying “be free”, only to see them smash on the counter.

    I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear of Robon Williams’ death. The world is a lesser place without him.

    The death of Michael Brown is also a tragedy, whatever the explanation for it turns out to be.

    1. I hadn’t seen World’s Greatest Dad before this week. I did spend a fair amount of time crying because his character stated “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Yes, it’s a trope that usually comes out of the mouths of people who aren’t suicidally depressed, but it was still painful to watch.

  47. That article and the righteous indignation in the commentariat remind me why I stopped reading that blog.

    To more important things, a terrible shame about Williams, and thank you for sharing the letter by Stephen Fry – a thoughtful response from one who’s lived with the dark cloud.

  48. This has affected me more than I thought possible. While I myself don’t suffer depression, my mom has severe, crippling depression. She has had several very serious suicide attempts…because we are also wickedly funny, we can sometimes laugh that she is like the Roadrunner in the Wile E. Coyote cartoons…no matter what gets thrown at her she zips through nearly unscathed (i.e. drinking a gallon of gasoline). Anyway, she is the same exact age as Robin Williams, and I know how many years of suffering that equates to. What people don’t realize, people who don’t suffer from this, is what a dark, dark place it becomes. She really, truly believes that if she were to take her life, it would be a burden lifted on us, her family. That it would make our lives better. That makes no sense to the healthy mind – but to the mind in that black pit it makes all the sense in the world. They don’t want their “poison” affecting the people they love. I have gently coaxed her back into the light several times, but it’s temporary – this is not a matter of “if” but “when”. My siblings and I all wonder, every time the phone rings, if this will be The Call. While I am grateful she does have Medi-Cal and county assistance, it really almost doesn’t matter. Being shuffled from doctor to doctor, appointments months in between, little follow up, there is no way for her depression to be effectively treated. The medication route is such a long, ugly quest for so many people, and many never find the holy grail combo of pills. That Robin Williams, with access to the best treatments available, succumbed to his depression leaves me feeling even that more hopeless for my own mom. I want to take away her hurt, I want her to know that she is worthy of love and worthy of the fight. Likewise, I wish Robin Williams could have felt this love that is roaring forth from all over the world.
    Jerry, thank you for such a heartfelt and touching post – I…love you.
    As for PZ, wtf. I don’t know what’s going on with him. I’ve read him for years, and it surprises me that he played this card. He was just plain cruel to use William’s death as a media conspiracy soapbox. People’s hearts were broken here…doesn’t mean we don’t care about what’s happening in the middle east or in St. Louis – we can still grieve the loss of a beautiful man.

    1. Please allow me to commend the tenacity of your love for your mother. I well know that she will never appreciate it but, speaking only as a human being, it is wonderful what you do.

      1. Oh, I suspect she appreciates it very much. Just because it doesn’t lift the veil of despair doesn’t mean that attention from loved ones is not valued.

        My adult daughter also has to deal with a depressed mother, and we also enjoy much black humor that others would be shocked at.

        1. Thank you, Diane <3 It's not always easy to understand the macabre humor necessary to function in such a family.
          Once when I took her to the ER for chest pains, the Doc asked her if any of her relatives suffer from heart problems. She responded, "Well, not anymore seeing as how they are all dead." I almost pissed myself laughing and the doc was quite taken aback.

          1. My mother says stuff like that too & people are taken aback by it. My dad & I tell her not to make such weird jokes to medical personnel because they’ll think she’s a crazy old lady & put her away!

      2. Thank you for your kind words. To be honest, I don’t know if manipulating her into sticking around is in fact the right thing to do. Who am I to say she has to continue to suffer? She was horribly and constantly beaten as a child by her father. When her mother was 13, my grandmother committed suicide. From the time she was a little girl, there has been a voice in her head telling her she was stupid, ugly, worthless. It screams at her, in her mind. 24/7. It makes her hurt herself, in recent months, since I had to move out of town, she is now slamming her head repeatedly onto things, she is burning herself and hurting herself. So she has a veritable bouquet of disorders, from schizophrenia (not paranoid, and she is always aware the that voice is not “real”), to depression, to PTSD/startle response, to borderline personality disorder. There is nothing that would treat all this that also wouldn’t turn her into Chief after his EST in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She doesn’t want to live like a spaced out, drooling, cotton brained zombie.
        So, I actually feel very, very guilty at times that I have coaxed her into staying, when I, nor anyone else, can help her. We pat her on the head and say “good job” and let her suffer.
        It’s selfish and cowardly of me – I want her to be healthy more than anything – but there is no help around the corner here. If I was truly a good daughter, I would say goodbye with all the love in my heart and allow her, without guilt, to remove herself from her torture chamber of a mind.

    1. While we’re on the topic of media, I think articles like that fall into the “blindingly obvious” category. No one should be surprised that a group of thugs killing everyone in their way who disagrees with them is saying they’re happy over another death.

    2. How bizarre, it’s like some space-time phenomenon combined the posts on this site & spat them out, deformed, on Twitter!

  49. Thank you Jerry, for sharing that very moving letter from Stephen Fry. Like many here, I enjoyed hours of smiles and laughter thanks to Robin Williams, and have lost friends to depression.

    As for the other part of the discussion, I can only respond with an image. Mourning the passing of one troubled human being doesn’t diminish our concerns for another or our commitment to social justice.

    How would we have responded to a discussion that simply reminded us of the passing of another poor soul that should not be forgotten amidst the passing of Mr Williams? I for one, would have taken it rather more kindly.

    FYI, this panel is not an attack on anyone, especially Dr Meyers from whose site I have learned a great deal over the years. I didn’t care for that installment, but the same can be said for entries at any site I visit. It’s about a tendency that I see throughout the network of skeptical discussion forums. It’s just a reminder that we all (in the skeptical community) should take a deep breath from time to time before we speak – or type – or draw ;). While poking fun at other forms of tribalism we can’t allow ourselves to fall into the same traps with our own.

  50. Williams apparent suicide after what appears to have been a very long battle with depression made me immediately think of the equally tragic loss of David Foster Wallace in September of 2008. While they operated in different mediums, both were immensely funny, intelligent and remarkably sensitive to the pain of others. Wallace’s literary rep rightly stands on both his fiction and essays, but for a brief but revealing look at what was at the core(thematically) of alot of his work, one might read This is Water

  51. PZ Myers deserves to have his views considered with respect when they concern biology. He has earned that.

    With respect to everything else, he is just another asshole with an opinion–one who has not demonstrated himself worthy of serious consideration on pretty much anything. People need to quit paying him undue attention and acting like his opinions are more important than they are just because he’s like the atheist community’s batty uncle who ruins Thanksgiving dinner with his political views.

    Let him and his myrmidons sit in their hermetically-sealed echo chamber at ETB talking about how awesome they are. But please stop giving him the honor of pretending his bullshit is even worthy of refutation.

    1. “PZ Myers deserves to have his views considered with respect when they concern biology.”

      Maybe long ago. Now, any comment that hints at disagreement is met with a tsunami of vitriol by his followers and more often than not encouraged by PZ himself. Even in his posts about biology and evolution (which are becoming rarer and rarer). He has become a joke.

    2. Which of Myers’ science views should we respect? His neo-lamarckism? His politically-motivated rejection of evolutionary psychology? Or perhaps his dead-end experiments on zebra fish?

  52. As many, I was shocked and saddened by Williams’ passing. I knew, for having read a news story in the eighties, about his coke addiction, for which he stated that he had too much time to stare at himself in the mirror. Fair enough. This is usually what happens to famous and rich people. But I would have never thought that this hypersuperactive mind, this true genius, was suffering from depression. This illness is nasty. One can be funny and hilarious, really pleasant to be around, and just think about slapping his fingers to disappear off the face of the earth. Once we think it’s gone and away, depression comes back with a vengeance to suck life out of you. Doctors don’t know it. Specialists have no idea about it. Not to mention your friends or your family. Even my own shrink, after three years of therapy, has no idea that I am depressed and bipolar and keeps telling me about his own wonderful and rich and adventurous life (which is, actually, quite interesting). But what would one expect?

  53. I’ve just put my thoughts together.

    Yeah, a Facebook post but having been fighting depression for >10 years it’s a personal thing…

    “OK, right, my thoughts on the Robin Williams thing.

    Was he selfish? From his position, no. When you have such a displaced view on your own value that getting yourself out of the world of other people is seen as a positive thing, it’s… bad.

    I’ve wrecked relationships with other people with this in mind. They were better with me out of their lives. Looking back I was a right prick.

    I never went far enough down to remove myself from everyone’s lives (including my own) permanently.

    I am so sorry for his friends and family. He thought that he was doing the best for you.

    I am so sorry for him. It was a daily, hourly, minutely (maybe) fight that he just couldn’t overcome.


    RIP dude.”

  54. My first reaction to Williams’ suicide was unbridled anger. I was furious with him for doing such a thing?! But minutes later, the deep sadness of the whole thing hit me; I could feel inside myself the depth of the anguish he must have felt in order to do such a thing. I know my reaction has a lot to do with my own mental health, and how I was/am treated, like getting mocked for it by my step father when I asked for help in high school, or whenever I answered honestly when someone like my mother would ask how things were going (nobody wants to hear the truth, and other people have it worse so shut up about it) not to mention the frequent reply of “First World Problems!” that has become so popular these days. My anger stemmed from the fact that, unlike me, he has (had) the financial means to do something about his troubles, whereas my my financial situation amplifies my own, that, and a sick sort of selfishness, as if he is supposed to stay alive and continue entertaining us; a little funny flicker of light in a darkening world…

    Being sick and home from school allowing me to watch reruns of Mork and Mindy (the reason I’ve always wanted a Jeep), seeing Hook with my grandma, not to mention som of my other favorites like Garp, and Awakenings, and Good Morning Vietnam…a huge part of my childhood (some of the better bits for an otherwise miserable child) has died a little bit with him.

    As for PZ, he calls himself the “Happy Atheist”, but if it weren’t for da roolz on this site, I’d call him a whole lot of other things…but I’d rather ignore him and have a laugh or two instead.

    “You’re only given a little spark of madness. you mustn’t lose it.”

    Na-nu Na-nu.

  55. I could spontaneously explode about PZ Myers, for all sorts of reasons. He is a hypocrite, however that isn’t news. But how can someone be such a misanthrope? He’s made it full circle now and I wonder if this man needs some serious help.

    Since I lost a friend to suicide years ago, I’ll rather take the moment and reflect about that. The (generally wonderful) Stephen Fry makes a lot of great observations that also may explain why it is so hard to deal with suicide of someone you know. You always think about “why didn’t they wait out the rain” or “why wasn’t I there with a hot chocolate and a good story”. Of course in reality, people who have these thoughts know to keep these secrets from everyone else. This, and other losses taught me to never have too much unspoken things between me and those I care about.

    I’d like to share a song that deals with these topics: Band Of Horses – The Funeral

    “On the surface it tells the story of a man whose dog has died. The black dog may symbolise depression. Saddened by his loss, the man drowns his sorrows in alcohol. He then drives under the influence and the end of the video suggests he crashes head-on into a delivery truck.” (from Wikipedia)

    1. I’ve lost a friend to suicide brought on by depression a couple of months ago. So yes, there was something constructive to be made from Robin William’s untimely demise. It wasn’t the route chosen by Myers, though.

      I care a lot about the issues surrounding Brown’s death. I also care a lot about the suicide of a beloved figure who has entertained me since my childhood. And I care a lot about depression-led suicides. I also care about that three months old kitty who was euthanized after some neighbor shot him with a BB gun in my area.

      Unlike Myers, a lot of people can multitask.

  56. Well, I won’t try to defend how PZ said what I think he was trying to say. But he does have a point about our terrible news media. They will be all over this story because it’s a tragic story about a well-known and fondly regarded celebrity. So that means lots of sentiment, and lots of easy to obtain footage etc. etc.

    The fact is our news media are lazy and prefer easy stories with lots of audience appeal to the hard work of covering complex and controversial stories that might ruffle a few feathers. Pointing that out does not have to be taken as disrespect for Mr. Williams. Just as a similar observation that many people made about the many useless, empty, vapid, hours of know-nothing speculation about MH 370 should not be taken as a disrespectful to the hundreds of people who almost certainly died in that tragedy.

    1. If that was his point, and perhaps he thought it was, he is an ignoramus who picked the completely wrong example. “The news media” has been all over the story of the killing of Mr. Brown in St. Louis.

      His lashing out at “the media” in this way is exactly how Sarah Palin lashes out against “the media”. It was ill informed, petulant, and foolish.

      Note: For the record, and so as not to provoke responses based on false assumptions, I agree that much of what passes for news reporting in the US is shallow and lazy. But much better examples exist.

    2. “The fact is our news media are lazy and prefer easy stories with lots of audience appeal to the hard work of covering complex and controversial stories that might ruffle a few feathers. ”

      The media give what people want. The generations who only type with their thumbs only and have a 30 second attention span want and expect this.

      That is why “reality” shows are so popular.

      I saw someone on a Facebook complain Sunday night that 60 Minutes (which had 3 good stories) is so boring and the network should be airing Big Brother.

      People don’t want and can’t handle complex issues.

      1. Precisely. From time to time, serious broadcasts are attempted but they quickly tank.

        There is actually still some pretty impressive description and analysis of complicated problems going on, as ever, in the print press. (Which is available online now, of course.) But few turn to these organs any more (and consequently they’re disappearing). And with more and more people relying on sites like HuffPo that expect writers and journalists to work for nothing, pretty soon we’ll be awfully short of writers and journalists.

    3. Alright, since I hate that PZ Myers and his faction are constantly unfair with their critics, I will try my best to not do that. I also have seen how they complain already how detractors didn’t understand the point. Too bad about that, if these people had the faintest idea…

      Let’s give it a try.

      General Argument: media will use the story to fill their frontpages.

      A valid point. However…

      Problem #1: Tone
      This can be pointed out in a million ways, without mockery (“it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction”), or making this about his skin colour or socio-economic status (“wealthy white man”). Robin Williams is not on the front page due to these things, but because he was an actor that made millions happier.

      Counter #1: Tone

      It is known that PZ Myers and his followers always have it both ways. They get all worked out when someone is a “tone troll”, or “concern troll” (i.e. they like to turn the “rudeness” knob to 13 then) but when it suits them, they are the biggest tone and concern trolls themselves. Think last week’s “emotion and logic” arguments, for example. They don’t get empathy at all.

      Argument: there are other things that are more important than the death of an actor

      Problem #2

      While true, that would be the “dear muslima” argument. Head explodes. But PZ Myers and his faction destroyed any irony meters I once had (even the better ones that can handle 1000 µzvan).

      Problem #3

      PZ Myers also thinks like an authoritarian when he believes “the news” can somehow coordinate on when enough is enough. You can criticize an outlet when they go over the top with one story, but you can’t reasonably blame different outlets when they each cover the same story. This can be translated to the movement (where it isn’t valid to claim people were obsessive as if many individuals were one organism).

      1. Problem #4

        The media, even the english speaking one, may aim at international readers. Particular american issues, like involving racism, may be featured to a lesser degree than Robin Williams, who is known at least everywhere in the western world.

    4. Well, yeah, the media is lazy (mostly because their audience is lazy). That’s hardly news to anyone though, I think most adults know this, and if not, at least most “politically aware” do.

      You could easily write a post about this anytime, without even mentioning Williams. Media goes from top story to top story all the time, never seeming to have a longer memory than 3-4 days, seldom following up but always dramatize and oversimplifying complex issues into a selling narrative rather than a factual, neutral observation of reality.

      However, Myers clearly wanted to do more than just point out how lazy media in general was – He wanted to get a context of racism, because PZ thought that media stopped running the Brown case in favor of RW’s death. Now, as people have already pointed out, this itself is a gross misrepresentation of reality – the Brown shooting and following events have received, and still receive, a great deal of media attention.

      There’s really nothing at all in PZ’s post that really present and argues well for his claim that the media circus is racists. All he really do is “look, media is running the news of RW’s death! racism!”. In that regard, PZ Myers post reads mostly as cheap and badly written attempt to score “look how progressive and anti-racist I am” points.

      However, it get’s worse. Even if you were someone who sincerely believed that media was phasing out the Brown story for the death of Williams because the plight of “brown people” and police brutality was inconvenient, you could easily write a very angry post about this without disrespecting Williams.

      PZ didn’t do this. No, instead PZ more or less at points writes as if he faults Williams for having the temerity to take his own life at a inconvenient time – because there was other news on the telly that PZ though was more important than the suicide of a “wealthy white man”.

      That is, no matter how you put it, beyond despicable, and even for Myers it’s a new low.

    1. That’s worth quoting a chunk of:

      The Amazing Atheist is not a normal human being.

      Instead, The Amazing Atheist raged at the fact that this young woman was getting attention when other people have died, too. She was a well-off Western girl with plenty of privileges, so how dare we consider her story particularly tragic? There are so many other people who are worse off than she was!

      Well, you know, we have a couple of choices in our lives.

      We could, for instance, search the world for that one person who is in the worst circumstances of anyone; the person who is suffering the very most right now. We can do this while turning up our nose at each other afflicted individual who isn’t hurting enough for our standards; why, you’re a quadriplegic dying in a ditch? But you don’t have shingles! And both your eyes are intact! I’m sure we can find someone worse off than you. And then when we find that ultimate person in pain, we can promise to do everything we can to help them.

      But I’ve noticed that people who make that kind of argument aren’t actually offering to help anyone. Their perversely inverted, demanding standards are really an excuse to turn away from the miserable they consider undeserving, to justify refusing to help…because that ultimate sufferer will never be found.

      What a fucking hypocrite.

      1. So if I read this right, the amazing atheist, (whoever he is???) says, we’re paying too much attention to the bullying death of a young woman, so why not pay attention to the deaths of a lot of other women everyday – in a rather mean spirited way to say the least if I follow the link, and PZ’s comments. PZ Myers rightly blasts him for this callousness.

        Later PZ Myers blasts how the media is paying too much attention to the death of Robin Williams in a similarly callous demeaning manner when other people worthy of attention suffer unnecessary deaths.

        Not exactly true parallel. But, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, wonder what it might be?

      2. Thank you for that. It was not the only time Myers did the exact same thing that he was attempting to lambaste in the referenced post. I haven’t been to FTB in a while for many of the reasons already mentioned by others, but I do remember that he had quite a bit to say about that very thing he just did there.

  57. I haven’t heard anyone mention Robin Williams’ role in The World According to Garp. I can’t help but remember one of Garp’s responses when asked about what his initials, T.S., stood for: “Terribly Sad.”

    Lets hope that Robin Williams’ death allows us to have more frank, open dialog about mental illness.

  58. One more comment to add to my longish earlier one, and that is to add to the love expressed over Stephen Fry’s letter. The last two years of my life have been mostly terrible, but one thing that helps me make it through has been the amazing ability for comedy to soothe my jangled and anxious nerves. Staying up way too late watching reruns of Stephen Fry on QI, laughing my ass off when what I really wanted to do is scream…

    When you stop laughing, you stop living.

    Impossible still to believe, but I guess Robin Williams was all laughed out.

  59. I like Frye more and PZ less now. Thanks for the post.

    Mental illness is intractable and you can no more fix it yourself than you can fix a broken leg yourself. Those who have just “snapped out of” a bad period or have put down the bottle on their own, and then belittle people who have more serious problems, are like a person who has recovered from a sprained ankle berating someone with a broken leg for not trying hard enough.

    I hope Williams’s passing will bring some understanding to his disease.

  60. This is an eloquent and cosiderate text of a man that has expressed so much of the human condition. I find it surprising Mr Williams tooktime to end his short life. He was a player and must have had great connections and wisdom so as we grovel to pay homage to the great man, I find there is more than the void left behind in his wake there is the emptiness of reason for this loss. Over on this side of the pond he was well liked, and as for Mr Fry he appears regularly to entertain educate and express an appreciation of living. There is so much going on in these troubled times the effectsi are not directly impacting on people yet in the west. I think this has all been covered though and well written. The fiction that exists is becoming very suspicious however and not really an appropriate platform to pay tribute in admiration of Mr Williams RIP.

  61. Stephen Fry’s bio on IMDb begins like this:

    Writer, actor, comedian, doer of good works, excellent good friend to the famous and not… [my emphasis]

    His acting credits are many, although he’s had very few “serious” roles (in V for Vendetta he is essentially playing himself, as he might be under a fascist dictatorship). He is (for many) the definitive Jeeves.

    He’s also a noted humanist, a ruthless critic of all kinds of woo… 

    …all astrology is absolutely and without reservation the bullest of bullshit that ever there was. It is a senseless delusion that does not even have the benefit of being harmless fun. It is a harmful bore. Harmful to the human spirit, harmful to the dignity and wonder of the real universe and the real power of the mind to think for itself. I hate astrology with a fervour that is almost frightening.

    … and (as many regulars will know) was a very effective debating partner of Christopher Hitchens.

    He has fans from all backgrounds, and, of course, has a huge following on a certain social network… 

    An extraordinary man.


    1. Have you watched A Fish Called Wanda lately? Watch for the scene that made me say “hey, that’s Stephen Fry!”

      1. A Fish Called Wanda is one of my favourite movies. John Cleese was brilliant in it. I loved his strip tease while speaking Russian.

    2. Fry was the main, very dramatic character in “Wilde” which, as the name hints, is a biopic about Oscar Wilde. It was most excellent.

  62. this whole post is good stuff. thanks for writing it, and thanks for taking meyers down a peg. perhaps he broke his arm while patting himself on the back.

  63. So now Myers has doubled down. He states:

    “You want a few blog posts even here that praise William’s life? It’s not enough that CNN and FoxNews are babbling endlessly about Robin Williams? Well, you’re not going to get it here. We can have a few places that don’t fawn over the dead man.”

    Ironic considering he was railing about the death of one man in comparison to another.

    His lack of self-awareness is always stunning.

    1. He’s also berated those expressing sympathy for Williams because they didn’t know him as a person but my question about how well he knew Brown doesn’t seem to get through.

      A technical glitch, obviously.

  64. PZ Myers has a fascist mentality. At least once he’s fantasized about being the dictator of the world. His politics are absolutist. He does not tolerate dissent — hence the interminably boring crap about who was banned for what. Full disclosure: I was banned, as I best recall, for suggesting that anonymity was poison for the Internet.

    1. For what it’s worth, I’ve disagreed with PZ openly in that thread on his blog. PZ’s being a huge asshole about what is in fact a very important issue… And when people pointed this out to him, he doubled down.

      In my view, Coyne has PZ bang to rights on this one.

      However… Despite my open disagreement wint PZ in the comment thread on PZ’s blog, PZ has not banned me. So he can’t be entirely that much of a fascist… At least, not all the time.

      The only time I’ve ever been ‘banned’ or anything like it was actually here on Why Evolution is True. Jerry didn’t like an argument I was making, so I found my comments suddenly started to get locked in moderation and never emerged to see the light of day.

      Eventually I started getting comments through again, so I presume Jerry either forgave or (more likely) just forgot about it. No big deal.

      That doesn’t make Jerry a ‘facist’. Jerry’s blog, Jerry’s rules. He can do what he likes with his blog, and doesn’t owe me a platform for anything.

      Similarly, PZ’s blog, PZ’s rules. PZ can do what he likes with his blog, and doesn’t owe you a platform for anything.

  65. Thanks for a thoughtful and well written post on a very sad event. A light has most definitely gone out today. I hope my own post can help people to understand a little of what being depressed feels like, though I must confess Stephen Fry does it so much better than I ever could.

    1. “Does anyone still read Pharyngula?”

      The data provided by Alexa show that the numbers are declining and have been for a long time. You can see that most of the comments to his posts are from the same 10-20 people over and over again.

    2. Just the last few rats who haven’t left the sinking ship. The usual buffoons – Sally Strange, Caine/Inaji, Improbable Joe, Josh Spokesgay, etc.

      1. I copying this from a post made by the user austin at another forum.

        “…. I did a count of users of the first 500 comment posts for PZ’s blog post character assassination of Robin Williams. Here’s what I found in terms of posts by users:

        Inaji 72, Tony! 62, Seven of Mine 29, consider this 24, Daz 20, Brony 18, Nerd 17, Pteryx 17, Dianne 10, CatieCat 9, Tashilisciously 9, PZ 8 (top 12)
        10 users 5-7 posts, 17 users 3-4 posts, 73 users 1-2 posts.

        So Inaji and Tony! account for ~26% of the posts alone and the top 12 out of ~112 posters including PZ account for ~59% of the posts. The vast majority of posters sit in the background of a dozen or so people dominating the conversation.”

        My guess of 10-20 people was pretty good. Twelve posters account for the large majority of posts. That’s a small number of people.

        1. I like how you’re sniveling out of saying this comes from the Slymepit! Evil den of all that is evil and evil! And of devilishly level-headed people with a devilish affection for skepticism and evidence-based things!


  66. I have to take exception to Fry’s letter as nice and well meaning it was it left much to be desired.

    Using the weather analogy is somewhat interesting but the don’t worry the sun will come out someday tone is simply wrong.

    Depression is a disease and must be treated as such. That means medical attention and medicine. Those rainy, crappy days Fry speaks of can kill you if your not properly prepared.

    Tens of thousands commit suicide because they didn’t treat the illness.

    I am survivor only because I was lucky to have the right doctors who worked with me to find the right anti-depressants that saved me.

    That process took almost two years, but now I have it under control.

    Waiting for a “sunny” day that may NEVER come can kill you. Just as if you stood in the rain without proper clothing and contracted hypothermia.

    Don’t wait, take action.

    1. What ‘should he have said? The letter was a personal communication to someone. That he hoped would help, but may not.
      One extremely important truth in the letter, using the weather analogy, was that it is real and beyond your control.
      There is a post above, asserting that most people just need to think better thoughts and they will be ok.
      That is not true, and passing that message on is important.\
      Even with the ‘right’ treatment, recovery can take a long tine, so the analogy holds.
      Also. he recipient seems to have found it helpful.

      1. “What ‘should he have said?”

        I thought it was obvious given my post. Depression is a medical illness, it needs medical attention. I wouldn’t say to a cancer patient, do not worry it will get better someday. I’d tell them to see a professional.

        As I stated, Fry’s letter was well intentioned but still severely lacking. IMHO of course.

        1. I think it’s quite possible that Crystal was already receiving treatment, and may have shared that with Fry in her letter.

          1. Maybe, but it wasn’t clear at all and I wanted to point out the critical need for seeking professional medical attention.

            I didn’t seek it for too long and it cost me and others quite a lot in so many ways.

        2. That’s a fair point and I feel the same, but maybe Fry knew from her letter that she was already on medication and this was an encouragement to stay the course and wait out the storm.

          There’s hope still.

          At least that’s what I got from it.

    2. “take action”?

      That seems to me the epitome of vagueness, as does the motivation behind this exhortation.

      Why? What? How?

      And on second thought, who are you to proclaim such wisdom about the subject?

      “Depression is a disease” is mostly false. It’s a personality disorder that may be temporary or permanent. Sometimes it can be cured or ameliorated, either permanently or temporarily.

      There is no clinical diagnosis based on any kind of tissue analysis, no understanding of the mechanisms, if such can even be identified in principle. You might as well call “optimism” a disease, other than that those suffering from it rarely complain. There is no analytical way to separate depression from the person.

      It is a condition, not a “disease” as we understand disease.

      1. “That seems to me the epitome of vagueness, as does the motivation behind this exhortation.

        Why? What? How?”

        By seeking professional medical attention. What part of that simple concept are you not grasping?

        Are you suggesting that those with severe clinical depression do not seek medical attention.

        Yes or No?

        If yes, then I fail to see your problem with my post.

        1. “By seeking professional medical attention. What part of that simple concept are you not grasping?

          Are you suggesting that those with severe clinical depression do not seek medical attention.”

          I took exception to your implication that medical help tends to solve depressions. Sometimes it does. For some. Somewhat. For a while. For many it does nothing whatsoever. It may be on average be better than waiting for a sunny day that may or may not come. Personally I’m unsure.

          Apologies for coming in a bit hot and using snark. I can be a bit oversensitive on this subject.

          1. ” I can be a bit oversensitive on this subject.”

            As am I for reasons that should be obvious given what I revealed in my initial post in this sub-thread.

            “For many it does nothing whatsoever. It may be on average be better than waiting for a sunny day that may or may not come. Personally I’m unsure.”

            Here we part company. I am very certain medical treatment of clinical depression trumps “waiting for a sunny day” EVERY SINGLE TIME.

            It’s a very serious, life threatening medical condition as those of us who have actually suffered it or those who have lost loved ones to it know all to well.

            1. Actually, there is a lot of science behind sunshine. Vitamin d is a co-factor in several 100 bodily processes, perhaps no where as vital as in the brain. The hospital courtyard, where patience once sat in the sun and actually got well, has been pushed aside in favor of Big Pharma. There’s no money in sunshine. Even a sick dog knows enough to sleep in the sun.

              One cannot expect to have good brain health without sufficient quantity of magnesium. Yet 80 percent of the population is now magnesium deficient. And magnesium supplements only work if there is sufficient vitamin D, its co-factor.

              Depression is a brain disorder, no differently than a blocked coronary artery is a heart disorder. But no one I know sees a therapist when they feel like they’re going to have a heart attack.

              1. “Depression is a brain disorder, no differently than a blocked coronary artery is a heart disorder.”

                You are aware there are different types of depression, a number of them lumped together under ‘disthymic disorder’?

                I’m pretty sure medical science has no idea what causes these; i.e. even less than they understand acute (temporary) depression. The latter tends to at least have an identifiable cause and is generally susceptible to SSRIs.

                Do you have any links to research showing that “depression is a brain disorder”?

              2. That’s how Lululemon landed in hot water. They put various messages on their bags. This was one:

                Sunscreen absorbed into the skin might be worse for you than sunshine. Get the right amount of sunshine.

                Apparently there has been an increase in skin cancer for whatever reasons.

                I’m very pale & I have light eyes. I can basically stick my head out the window for a couple minutes & get enough vitamin D. I’ve been tested for my levels and they are always normal, even during the winter months when the sun is low on the horizon. It’s the only advantage I’ve had been way too pale.

              3. I’m dark-skinned for a Caucasian. I tan very well. When I can’t get a good dose of sunshine I get depressed and moody. Maybe it’s psychological, or maybe it’s physiological, but it’s real. I never use sunscreen unless I’m fishing in the tropics.

              4. I’m like you, Stephen, though light-haired and eyed. I should probably be more consistent with the sun-screen, though. I try to remember a hat. I’m definitely susceptible to SADD as well, so make sure to get outside even on the coldest of wintery days.

            2. “Here we part company. I am very certain medical treatment of clinical depression trumps “waiting for a sunny day” EVERY SINGLE TIME.”

              Yes, here we do part company, as I know a number of counterexamples. I am one of them.

      2. Depression is not a “personality disorder”. It is an illness and if you want to get technical – a disorder but not a personality disorder. No, no one takes brain tissue samples, because it is a problem with the chemistry in the brain and no it isn’t fully understood and that is why treatments are difficult.

        1. You are correct that it’s not a “personality disorder”, although in some cases (mine) it can certainly appear to be. My bad.

          “because it is a problem with the chemistry in the brain”. I don’t think there’s much evidence supporting that statement. Brain chemistry is involved, for sure. Whether the cause lies there is highly debatable. I suspect it rarely is.

          1. Yes, certainly there is controversy about what the actual cause is and most likely the cause is a complex process within the brain. I read an article that mentioned the involvement of neurons in addition to monoamine chemicals.

  67. I’ve become allergic to the present usage of terms like “privilege” and the reflexive dissing of “white men.” They’ve become lazy and shallow clichés meant to gag any dissenting opinion (basically it’s just a slightly more sophisticated way of saying “Shut up, you have no right to speak”), and to sanctimoniously and narcissistically demonstrate to all how forward-thinking and cool the (usually also white and privileged) speaker is. It suggests a reactionary strain and is not conducive to proper discourse.

  68. Nice to see someone FINALLY cite The Fisher King in a list of great Williams movies, as it is my personal favorite….and oddly appropriate for anyone looking for their own personal catharsis over his death.

    Seriously, if you can watch Williams awaken from his coma and whisper to Jeff Bridges “I miss her, Jack…Is that OK? Can I miss her now?” without bawling like a baby, then you’re a tougher man than I.

    1. For what it’s worth, I’ve disagreed with PZ openly in that thread on his blog. PZ’s being a huge asshole about what is in fact a very important issue… And when people pointed this out to him, he doubled down.

      In my view, Coyne has PZ bang to rights on this one.

      However… Despite my open disagreement wint PZ in the comment thread on PZ’s blog, PZ has not banned me. So he can’t be entirely that much of a fascist… At least, not all the time.

      The only time I’ve ever been ‘banned’ or anything like it was actually here on Why Evolution is True. Jerry didn’t like an argument I was making, so I found my comments suddenly started to get locked in moderation and never emerged to see the light of day.

      Eventually I started getting comments through again, so I presume Jerry either forgave or (more likely) just forgot about it. No big deal.

      That doesn’t make Jerry a ‘facist’. Jerry’s blog, Jerry’s rules. He can do what he likes with his blog, and doesn’t owe me a platform for anything.

      Similarly, PZ’s blog, PZ’s rules. PZ can do what he likes with his blog, and doesn’t owe you a platform for anything.

      1. If you read PZ’s post, his wasn’t merely kvetching about the media using William’s death “as a distraction”, but that the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES took time to offer condolences to William’s family.
        This is a nice gesture, but none were offered to Brown’s family. Another unarmed black kid gets killed by the police and there is only silence from the POTUS. Why the different treatment?
        Perhaps, because commenting sympathetically on William’s death makes you a warm caring human being, but commenting sympathetically on Brown’s death would open a political can of worms.

          1. If you look at the timeline:
            Brown was killed on Sunday afternoon.
            Williams was found dead on Monday morning.
            Obama issued condolences to the Williams’ family on Monday, the same day he was found.
            He issued condolences to the Brown family on Tuesday. By then the community had erupted into protests then civil unrest, and police in full riot were clamping down on the residents.
            PZ’s initial post was on Tuesday morning, before Obama issued his condolences to the Brown family.
            Possibly PZ jumped the gun, condemning Obama for something he was going to do. Possibly Obama decided that the Brown situation had escalated to the point that he had to make some statement to try and calm things down.

            1. I understand the the Williams statement came first, and faster, though I would chalk that up to the fact that an actors suicide is pretty simple for the president to take a stand on. However a shooting, where we still don’t know all the relevant details, might give a president pause before he opens his mouth.

              In any case, if I were being civil and reading the situation in a charitable way, this is how I’d look at it until I’d been shown evidence to do otherwise.

  69. I lost my best friend from childhood to suicidal depression. I know depression only episodically, but it’s enough to appreciate what a drag on human potential it represents.
    This being a biological site, it needs be acknowledged that Salvador Luria suffered depression lifelong, as he revealed in his autobiography. Can anyone begin to imagine what we might have gained from Luria’s mind unencumbered? This disease denies us so much.

  70. I wonder if he would have wanted us to crack jokes about it.

    Like, “well at least it wasn’t ebola!”

    He would have liked that

  71. Stephen Fry is one of my top ten humans alive today. Thanks so much for posting this.

    I think it is worth pointing out that I am not trying to show irreverence or ignorance or lack of perspective when I say that I have no idea what depression is. I must be wholly immune to it, in a way that even if I was struck by depression I am not sure I would recognize it.

    It is not as if I do not have empathy for those who suffer from depression. I probably manufacture a caring for the suffering individual that, very likely, the individual does not have for him/herself.