Robin Williams: The Parasites He Could Not Shake Off


The parasitic worm Spinochordodes tellinii is a parasitic worm that latches on to grasshoppers and crickets, changing their behaviour, controlling them, like a master marionette or politician, so that, when they are older, they jump into the water, to their death. All so the worm can reproduce in the water and begin the cycle again.

Toxoplasma gondii is another parasite that works in more sinister ways on the minds of our not-too-distant cousins, mice and rats. Naturally, rodents have a natural aversion to the smell of cat urine so that, when they smell it, they flee or abandon the area. When Toxoplasma gondii is in their system, however, their behaviour is altered: the rodents actually become attracted to the smell of cat urine. Making them easy prey for their natural predators. This is so the parasite’s host can be devoured and eventually, it is released in cat faeces, its favoured breeding ground.

“No one is alone any more in dying. But in the case of suicide, an army of wicked people is necessary to induce the body to that gesture against nature of depriving itself of its own heart.” Antonin Artaud, French playwright and poet wrote this in 1947 on Vincent Gogh in his publication, Van Gogh, The Man Suicided By Society. And the examples I started this article with showcase, if only so slightly, what Artaud was saying, that suicide is an unnatural, self-destructive behaviour.

Though nothing is unheard of in nature, suicide is generally the behaviour of something possessed by something alien, external. And, with the case of Robin Williams, and many others like him, is it a case of fame and society acting like Toxoplasma gondii on his behaviour? Though there is a definite genetic bias in some people towards suicide – take the Hemingway family, five suicides in four generations in that esteemed family – such internalized tendencies still need external switches to turn them on.

And in the world of Hollywood those switches, those potential mines, are manifold. In the wake of Williams’ death many organizations and charities have spoken out against the taboo that still hangs around mental illness. But more than that: isn’t there a damagingly morbid fascination in celebrity culture with the decline and self-destruction of its heroes? Isn’t the Hollywood media constantly (desperately) on the lookout for the next Jim Morrison or Marilyn Monroe? It’s never disappointed, naturally, from Amy Winehouse to Anna Nicole-Smith, the list of damaged stars are as numerous as the stars themselves. But in nurturing this obsession isn’t the media behaving like a band of poachers, killing off the already endangered?

Most stars crave fame. Who doesn’t? Very few of us would reject it. We want to be adulated. Revered by our peers. Even being admired by our friends is intoxicating enough. But to know, then, that the same people that respect you get their kicks from reading about your self-destruction, how must that affect the pysche of the already vulnerable ones? And while support exists through exclusive rehabilitation centres and the like, where is the support from those very people that make stars? Not only the media, but the managers, the agents, the producers; those with a vested interest in their puppet’s success.

And whilst the act of suicide is a brave one by its very nature, the road leading to suicide is as weak as addiction and as pitiful as regret. And it is a road seldom walked alone. Along the way the suicidal mind is liable to encounter parasites that push it and kick it into the crocodile-filled river, happy that the path of self-annihiliation is for them a profitable and celebrated one.

Now the accolades come in. Greatest comedian. Greatest dad. Genius. Wit and unique entertainer. Couldn’t they have come a bit sooner? Why don’t we stop the public accolades just for a moment, he’s not here to hear them any more. Let’s stop the machine going, out of respect for him. Let’s indulge in the man’s art, for that, that they can never take away.


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