Toys are objects of wonder, full of potential, containers of endless possibilities. Kids oftentimes take their new toys and observe them first in awe, taking in every angle and mechanism, before milking infinite worlds and tales out of them. But sometimes, all that wonder ends abruptly when the toy is stepped on by a careless adult; or when its gears —not infrequently flawed by poor manufacturing— get tired and give out.
But other times —most of the times, maybe— toys break because kids put them to the wrong use. Wingless action figures take a shot at flying, RC cars attempt audacious submarine journeys, and all kinds of innocent objects transform into blunt force weapons.
Yesterday Robin Williams was found dead in his home. Early reports have told us about a possible suicide. We know about his troubles with drug addiction. And we have also heard about his depression. We all mourn his loss, as someone who, through his many memorable performances on the screen, became part of our lives.
But like many other times, this kind of news makes me think. They always make me think there is something wrong with the deaths of so many vibrant, wonder-filled, awe-inspiring, well achieved public figures. They make me think about broken toys.
Not long ago, Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment’s bathroom with heroine and prescription drugs in his system.
Last year, Cory Monteith died of a heroin and alcohol intoxication. He was alone in his hotel room.
The year before that, Whitney Houston was found submerged in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills Hotel bedroom.
And yet one year earlier, the news reported on the death of Amy Winehouse from alcohol intoxication. She was, again, alone in her residence. Her bodyguard found her.
The world wept the death of Heath Ledger in 2008. He was only 28 when he was pronounced dead for “acute intoxication” from various prescription substances. He was alone in his SoHo apartment in Manhattan.
The story of Chris Farley, only 33 at the time of his death in 1997, is one of the most heartbreaking ones, as told in his biography: The hooker with whom he had partied all night left him to die as he collapsed in his apartment floor.
Kurt Cobain took all kinds of drugs and left a suicide note. Jim Morrison was found in his bathtub where, the story goes, he inhaled heroine for what he thought to be cocaine. The barbiturates got Judy Garland in her bathroom, which is also where the great Elvis Presley was found before an ambulance took him away — to no avail. And Marilyn Monroe. And Jimi Hendrix. Even Billie Holiday, for Heaven’s sake.
I can’t help but thinking that humanity has fallen into the bad habit of putting our talents and powers to the wrong use. We set standards of happiness that infatuate us. We desire pleasurable lives free of suffering and full of mansions and sports cars. We revere physical beauty as a kind of ultimate goddess. We crave public recognition and dream with the vague promise of becoming much beloved. We seek greater pleasures for ourselves as we forget more and more about others around us. And in the end, sadly, all of that glittering spectacle seems to end in the same dingy, poorly lit, back alley: Money, sex, drugs.
It seems we have chosen to feed our human engines with a fuel that cannot make them work; or if it can, it’s only for a while, and at the cost of causing a considerable damage to our gears. Famous people who seem to have achieved all of their dreams, leading seemingly perfect lives, commit suicide or pursue other similar forms of self-destruction, while their audiences keep gaping at them, ready to give anything at any time to swap places with them. What is wrong with them? What is wrong with us?
Since I was a kid I was taught that the human heart is made for love, and that all other forms of anesthetic replacements can never bring us peace. All the endless possibilities of being human are struck down by choosing the wrong aspirations. I was also taught that life is of itself a “mission,” that is, that we are here for a reason. We just need to find which one is it, and then pursue it relentlessly, even at the cost of sacrificing many other, more inviting options. And when we don’t, that is when we lose the sense of meaning, of purpose. Hope vanishes, and our very beings become corrupted. Lonely hearts. Desperate souls. Broken toys.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams. I have said my prayers for you, and I truly hope you’re in a better place.
(“Broken Toys”: I borrow the expression from renowned Spanish novelist Juan Manuel De Prada, when he wrote a heartfelt piece about the tragic death of legendary pro cyclist Marco Pantani, who died of “acute cocaine poisoning.”)