The always outspoken Henry Rollins
has drawn the ire of many for his most recent LA Weekly
column. Published on Thursday in response to the overwhelming coverage of Robin Williams’ passing
, it’s called “Fuck Suicide”. Rollins has since apologized
, and while it seemed sincere enough, it’s an apology, whatever. In this edition of “TPS Responds”, we’ll look at the original column, and see exactly what was said in the first place.
*Note: due to redundancy, certain parts of the column won’t be quoted below. It can be read in full via the link above.
“Days after Robin Williams died, I kept seeing his face on the Internet. His death seemed to have a momentum of its own. It went from a sad death of a famous person to “a nation mourns” pitch, which I didn’t quite understand. Sites such as Huffington Post swim in their own brand of hyperbole. They call it news and culture, but often, it’s just content.
I understand why people feel Williams’ loss so intensely. His talent as an actor is not in dispute. His performance in Good Will Hunting is unimpeachable. I wonder if he was tapping into his own deep trench of personal pain to deliver some of those scenes. It was brave and excellent work.
When someone with this level of exposure dies in this way, it is confusing. An Oscar-winning actor, well-paid, with a career that most performers could only dream of — how could anyone so well regarded and seemingly fortunate have as much as even a single bad day, much less a life so unendurable that it has to be voluntarily voided?”
As we touched on in the last post about Geoff Rickly, money and/or fame doesn’t cure everything. It’s true that we can look at people in such fortunate situations and go “really? I’d be pretty happy with all that.” Rollins is right in pointing out how much of a story Williams death became, but when you think of the man’s longevity and legacy, it’s understandable. The funny thing is, even people on the internet were like “I don’t usually feel this way when a celebrity dies”. Robin Williams was just a special person, immensely talented and by all accounts a wonderful human being.
“On more than one of my USO tours, Robin Williams had been on the same stage a few days before me. That’s all I needed to know about him. As far as I was concerned, he was a good man.
But it’s here where I step off the train. I am sure some will strongly disagree with what I’m about to say. And I also understand that his personal struggles were quite real. I can’t argue with that.
But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves.
How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.”
It can’t be denied that there’s selfishness in committing suicide. The people in your life who care about you will be hurt, and it’s no doubt something that crosses the mind of everyone who attempts to kill themselves. When you’re a parent, mainly of young children, that’s intensified – Rollins has a point. However, people get to a point where their personal struggles outweigh everything, and that’s an absolutely crippling scenario to be in. Sometimes, loved ones are driven away by the perceived poor attitude, etc of the afflicted, and not having them by your side could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
“I know some people will disagree. And I get that you can’t understand anyone else’s torment. All that “I feel your pain” stuff is bullshit and disrespectful. You can appreciate it, listen and support someone as best you can, but you can’t understand it. Depression is so personal and so unique to each of us that when you’re in its teeth, you think you invented it. You can understand your own, but that’s it. When you are severely depressed, it can be more isolating than anything else you have ever experienced. In trying to make someone understand, you can only speak in approximation. You are truly on your own.”
Yep, so you basically just proved why people end up committing suicide, Henry.
“Many years ago, I lived in Silver Lake with a housemate who suffered from severe bouts of depression. When she wasn’t in her small bedroom with the lights off, crying for hours, she was bright and hilarious. Anywhere we went, we laughed our asses off. She fought her depression with everything from bike rides to drugs, prescribed and otherwise. Years after the last time I saw her, I guess she could no longer keep up the battle and killed herself. No one who knew her was surprised. When she was in her deepest misery, she was unrecognizable.
The hardest part about being around her was you knew there was nothing you could do to help.”
In his apology, Rollins mentioned his own struggles with depression, and knowing he’s experienced suicide with people in his life it’s understandable that this touched a nerve for him. He’s obviously toughed it out, and that’s admirable, but it’s also why he should know better than to write stuff like this.
“When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not.
I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to. It sucks they are gone, of course, but it’s the decision they made. I have to respect it and move on.”
No matter how you regard suicide, the act itself shouldn’t cancel out anything the person did in their life. Would Rollins feel that way if someone in his life accidentally overdosed on heroin? That’s another way to (albeit not 100%) willfully take your own life. A person who commits suicide still has people who love them in this world, and their life shouldn’t be marked with an asterisk because of the way they chose to go out.
“Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.
Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it. For all the people who walked from the grocery store back to their house, only to be met by a robber who shot them in the head for nothing — you gotta hang in there.
I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough. Raw Power forever.”
I guess the goal that we should all strive for in life is not to blow it, as seen through the eyes of Tony Robbins Henry Rollins. It’s true that innocent people die every day from freak circumstances, and that life is a very precious thing. We should all wake up every morning and do the best we can, because that’s all we can do. But, dismissing and trivializing suicide like Rollins did here isn’t the way to go. Making a choice like that isn’t like picking a box of cereal.
Truth be told, I think Henry Rollins wrote from a good place in this column. He has personal experience with depression and suicide, and dealing with that can bring up emotions that trump any sense of tact. However, you gotta be smarter than to dismiss suicide like that. Sure there are consequences for those you leave behind, but there are often none bigger than the ones people wake up and deal with internally every day. Couple that with the stigma behind depression and all mental illness, and it’s very real, and unrelenting. No one can deny that Henry Rollins is a smart person, but his insensitivity towards people who consider suicide is just dumb. At least his apology was half-decent.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”
– Robin Williams