Joel Silberman: Two Very Different Encounters With Robin Williams

Guest post by Joel Silberman

Robin Williams death has really taken me back into a part of my life I have long forgotten.

My first singing partner and wife was bipolar and eventually took her own life 3 years after we were divorced. When she was on a manic high, she was a brilliant singer and comedian. On the low end, she was suicidal. Eventually the low end won. Bipolar disease/depression is horrible to witness. It leaves us powerless to help those we love because when they are down, they hide in an inescapable black hole from which they cannot emerge.

I met Robin Williams twice. The second time was when I conducted for Madeline Kahn at the very first HBO Comic Relief. Backstage that night he was the kindest, most caring host of one hell of a party. He kept us laughing on and off the stage. He seemed happy. It was a joyous, amazing evening.

But the first time we met was quite a different time. It was a night in 1979. I was playing at a club on Broadway and after the show, we went to Studio 54. At that time I was a friend of a friend of the cocaine dealer to the club’s owner and his friends.

The dealer (the most popular person at 54) was recognized at the door of the club and we were always immediately escorted through the velvet ropes. On this night we went in and were taken up to the ladies lounge on the second floor where we joined a circle of folks already sitting on the floor who were: the late Steve Rubell, the owner of 54, Steve’s two boys of the evening, the late Halston and one of his favorite divas, and Robin Williams.

There was a lot of blow that night. Robin was beyond funny and only got funnier and funnier. We thought he would take off and never come down. Imagine his most manic moments on stage fueled by blow – right in front of you. He made us roll on the floor for 90 minutes. I’ll never forget it. It was a window into his addiction that was thrilling and chilling.

The hole was so deep. His need to create laughter for us was insatiable. He would not accept that the high he was on had an end. So he fueled it with blow and we laughed.

Years later as I remember that night, what stands out is Robin’s genius, and the incredible sink hole of need that genius covered.

I’m so sad that the low end of depression took him from us. And, I’m grateful to be alive.

You should also read Lizz Winstead’s first hand account of her Robin Williams experience.

Joel Silberman is a BNR guest contributor as well as a media strategist, trainer, and partner at the progressive political firm DemocracyPartners.com. Follow him on Twitter @joelsilberman

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