In The News – Comedian’s Suicide Stuns Fans, Family
San Francisco—Beloved funnyman Robin Williams was found dead Monday in what authorities called a suicide. The 63-year-old Oscar-winning actor had reportedly been battling severe depression and also had a history of alcohol and drug addiction.
Shocked relatives and fans wondered how Williams, who brought joy to so many people, could be in such anguish. Calling her father’s death an “immeasurable loss,” Zelda Williams, 25, said, “I’ll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay.”
Suicide-prevention experts worry that coverage of Williams’ death will lead to copycat suicides. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted a photo of Williams portraying the animated genie in Aladdin, with the caption “Genie, you’re free.”
Bill Schmitz Jr., president of the American Association of Suicidology, responded that “the genie is not free; the genie’s pain has now been dispersed to a very large audience…. [Williams] is dead, and his loss has devastated us all.”
Jane Powell, director of the support group Calm, said of the genie photo, “We all want Robin to be in a happier place, but it’s not a good message for people feeling suicidal, because we want them to stay with us and not go find some starry-night escape.”
Calls to some suicide hotlines have increased since Williams’ death. An average of 108 Americans commit suicide every day, and one in five teenagers has a history of depression. Experts emphasize that help is always available and that suicidal thoughts tend to be time-limited, while suicide is permanent.
Taking issue with the way many media outlets cover celebrity suicides, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said suicide isn’t heroic and shouldn’t be glorified. “We all only get one life, and I don’t think there’s anything more precious.” He added that people who believe in heaven sometimes think “life on earth just [isn’t] worth it because there’s something better out there. And that may be true, but it’s still a life wasted.”
Sources: theguardian.com, nytimes.com, Associated Press, cnn.com, rushlimbaugh.com
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Discussion Questions for Student Small Groups
What was your immediate reaction to news of Williams’ death? Why do you think someone who excelled at making people laugh was so unhappy?
What impact do you expect Williams’ death to have on his legacy as an actor? on his family? on other people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts?
In your opinion, have media outlets glorified Williams’ death? Why or why not? Do you think detailed descriptions of someone’s suicide lead to copycat deaths?
Why might someone associate suicide with freedom? What are some other ways to find freedom from depression or other types of pain?
Why is a stigma associated with mental illness that doesn’t exist for physical illness? What might help erase that stigma?
Do you consider suicide a cowardly act? a selfish act? Explain. Why does suicide sometimes seem like the only option for people? Why do you think people seek such a permanent solution to what are usually short-term problems?
If a Christian has suicidal thoughts, what (if anything) does that say about his or her faith? Do you agree that Christians sometimes don’t value life on earth because they know eternal life in heaven will be better? Why or why not?
Is suicide a sin? Can someone who commits suicide still go to heaven? Why or why not?
How well do you think you could recognize the warning signs of suicide? What would you do if a friend confided that he or she wanted to die? Would you be willing to report that to an adult, even if your friend got angry at you? Why or why not?
When you’re struggling, where can you find hope? When other people are struggling, how can you share that hope with them?
Scripture links: Deuteronomy 30:19-20; 1 Kings 19:1-9; Psalm 13; Jeremiah 29:11-14; John 12:25; and 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.