The smile of a clown

Leonard Lowe: We’ve got to tell everybody. We’ve got to remind them. We’ve got to remind them how good it is.

Dr. Sayer: How good what is, Leonard?

Leonard Lowe: Read the newspaper. What does it say? All bad. It’s all bad. People have forgotten what life is all about. They’ve forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded. They need to be reminded of what they have and what they can lose. What I feel is the joy of life, the gift of life, the freedom of life, the wonderment of life!


Robin Williams died today and the world mourns a clown… a Fool who sought to bring joy beyond a veil of personal pain and recurrent depression. My heart is with those who knew the man, not the image. Those who loved him and who will love him still.

The quote is from one of the most moving films I have ever seen, Awakenings, in which Williams plays a doctor who finds a way to awaken patients locked in stasis and bring them back to life. Robert de Niro plays ‘Leonard’. In the film the two men become close friends before the miracle of medicine fails and life is again taken from Leonard and he falls back into the waking coma once more. Williams’ character is devastated, riddled with guilt and grief for his friend.

Robin Williams has always reminded me of a man who was one of the best friends I have ever known. He too was a clown, always the centre point of laughter, full of energy and an apparent zest for life and living. He too spoke out against the injustices he saw and quietly rolled up his sleeves to tackle them in a personal and practical way. He drank and used drugs to numb the pain. He saw the wonderment of life and the beauty of the world, yet he too was locked in, closed within the fist of depression. What he saw was beyond his reach, yet he could open the world for others to see.

The world saw the kindness, the tomfoolery and jokes, they shared his brittle laughter and few looked beyond that projected smile to see what truly lay beneath the sparkle.

He would call me at two in the morning sometimes, “Are you awake?” I would throw on a coat and drive to his home. We would talk… he would talk and I would listen… until the pain eased a little. I would hold him sometimes while he wept the night through. Or we would plan the silly jests and madcap adventures we might share. When I was down, he was always there for me too. He was always there for everyone except himself. Depression stalked him daily, he hated himself for it, though that hatred too was a part of the invisible illness that hid behind the mask of laughter.

He hated himself for the hurt he caused to those he loved, simply by being alive.

There were a couple of months when it had been very bad and I had sat with him most nights till dawn. He had sought help and taken whatever the system had offered, but it was a bad time. One night he held me on the doorstep, kissed me and stood watching me go. I drove home with tears streaming. “We never did get to Ashridge, did we?” he had said. “There’s still time,” I had replied, denying the pain.

I watched his face recede in my rear view mirror. He hanged himself shortly afterwards.

He found the peace he craved for himself and for those he loved.

My friend’s eyes always held the pain, even in the laughter. The eyes of a clown with a painted smile that masked the inner darkness while he worked to bring joy and laughter to those around him. I have always seen that same look in Robin Williams’ eyes.

US comedian Sky Williams posted a Youtube video today;  in it he says, too late, to a friend he lost to depression: “I’m not a miracle worker and I can’t promise you much… I can’t make the words go away, I can’t make you love yourself…and I can’t magically make you sleep… But I have a room we can hide in… What I can do is wait right here with you until you are ready, we can talk all day, or we could be silent. We can do anything you want, as long as you know that when you leave this room, and re-enter the world, we’re going to do it together, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I painted a picture of rainbows falling as waterfalls; my friend took it home and hung it on his wall. He would sit and lose himself in the colours and remember he was loved. For a little while. Sometimes that is all we can do… sometimes it is enough, even though it doesn’t make the world go away.

I am not a depressive person, I am an optimist. Yet I have suffered reactive depression when events have been too much to assimilate and those years were a hell in which any sign of life was an uphill struggle. Even then, you smile and hide and hope desperately someone will see through the smile, though you fear that too because it exposes the blackness; yet you hope someone will reach out and hold you in silence while the hurt eases. Sometimes that is enough. You offer the gift of laughter because it is all you have, the only way you can reach out into the world and yet, by its nature, it veils you from the eyes of those who would ‘be there’ if they could… if they could see beyond the smile.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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21 Responses to The smile of a clown

  1. alienorajt says:

    Perfect evocation of the Broken Clown, Sue. Immensely moving. I type through tears. Reblogging. Everyone needs to read this. xxx


  2. alienorajt says:

    Reblogged this on ALIEN AURA'S BLOG: IT'LL BLOW YOUR MIND! and commented:
    The perfect piece following Robin Williams’ death. Please read. Sue’s words are hugely moving.


  3. This is a really nice article. I am happy i got to read it. 🙂


  4. ksbeth says:

    so beautiful and so sad, sue. he is so lucky you were there for him, and sad that he could not overcome his demons, and thank you for sharing this.


  5. Beautifully written and very moving.


  6. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece about your friend. Yes, typing through tears. Oh, so very sad. You were a great friend. xx ellen


    • Sue Vincent says:

      So was he, Ellen.


      • So sorry, Sue! He must have been a very dear treasure! My best friend made several attempts but failed. When things started to improve in her life, just when she wanted to live, cancer took her. Seems like life did her in. Same exact scencario with another friend. Talk about twists and turns. But in between, God gave me an even better friend, my husband!

        On Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM, Daily Echo wrote:

        > Sue Vincent commented: “So was he, Ellen. ” >


  7. raroto says:

    What a tragic end for both your friend and Robin Williams. May both rest in peace.


  8. A beautiful tribute to one of my favorite comedians/actors. I also loved Robin Williams in “Awakenings.” I had never known that there were catatonic patients who survived an encephalitis epidemic until I saw this film. He and Robert DeNiro were excellent in this film.

    It makes very sad to know that the man who was always making us laugh was in such pain.
    Sky Williams’ video was powerful. It’s one I hope makes a difference. I’ve lost a couple of friends to suicide. They leave behind bereaved family and friends who agonize over what could they have done to have convinced their friend that life was worth living. Thanks for posting this, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      You always go through the guilt stage, with any death, I think Judy, but with a suicide it leaves so many unanswered questions and such a raw state of shock. Yet this is something that happens, more often than we care to notice, to ordinary lives that are simply overwhelmed.


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