Robin Williams' suicide shook me, like so many others, to the very core. He'd spoken about his drink and drug problems before, yes, but to many of us he seemed the life and soul of the celeb party, the Oscar-winning creative genius who gave colour to films from Flubber to Good Will Hunting, an artist with a unique talent for making others laugh in the most original ways. He lit up our hearts - how could his have been shrouded in such darkness?
It got me thinking about how so many celebrities who have money, glory, power, fame - the stuff of childhood dreams, definitions of success to so many - have suffered, sometimes inaudibly, from addictions and mental illness. From talked about cases of depression like that of Angelina Jolie to quieter sufferers, from heartbreaking suicides to harrowing tales of drug overdoses, Hollywood's past is plagued with examples of how frail those seen as 'success stories' can be, of how quickly that so convincing veneer of perfection, success and happiness can be shattered. Cases of depression like that of Stephen Fry, or Robin Williams himself, show that the most 'successful', intelligent and talented often lead a far less perfect life than a quick glance at their CV would suggest.
So how do you define 'success' and 'failure'? Certainly Robin Williams will always be seen as a lively, uplifting and inspiring man, a success through and through in spite of his tragic end - but at the same time a man who failed to see his own future as he struggled to overcome a condition that became all-consuming.
Is it therefore time to re-assess what really constitutes success and to dismiss the age-old pre-conceptions of it so many of us (myself included) sometimes believe celebrities embody - money, fame, influence? Perhaps what some might define as 'mediocrity', or normality - a run-of-the-mill-job, a family, that daily routine some dream of fleeing - is the surest way to achieving real success if we define that by well-being and happiness. For someone who's always been motivated by ambition, by stereotypical, career-driven 'success', that's a big thing for me to say.
It would be misinformed to imply that the suffering of Robin Williams and so many other ill-fated stars has been brought on solely by their fame, their 'success', of course. It's both impossible and futile to say whether the pressures of fame cause those conditions or whether those conditions motivate the vulnerable to pursue that fame. But what I think is important is to draw what positivity we can from such a tragedy, in the memory of a man whose career revolved around making us laugh and connecting us to those around through magical, heartwarming and moving cinema. In that sense I am taking the tragedy as an opportunity to reflect and to recognise the reality that money, success and happiness don't necessarily go hand in hand, that 'fortune' sometimes brings a very heavy price to pay.
I'm guilty of yearning for more and aiming for perfection - and I don't think I'm alone in that; it's part of human nature. What I'm starting to realise is that perfection is a mirage, impossible to reach, and that recognition of those little things - a smile from a loved one, a word of advice from a trusted friend or a personal goal reached, however big or small - are the real ingredients for a true success story; that pre-conceived ideas about 'success' may be misinformed in that they fail to account for what should be the most important goals in anyone's lives - happiness, kindness.
With that in mind I've decided to start appreciating everything I do have - a loving family, friends, a safe and supportive environment - and giving myself up to those happy, precious moments that bring simple joy into my heart.
So in the name of the legend who gave life to that endearing character we all came to know and love - in the form of Mrs Doubtfire - perhaps we should take this instance, heart-wrenching as it is, as an opportunity to recognise that we shouldn't take 'mediocrity' for granted but should cherish it, for the simplicity and straightforward happiness it can bring us.Suggest a correction