The late Robin Williams once said, “If you need booze or drugs to enjoy your life to the fullest, then you’re doing it wrong.”
Williams, who committed suicide, was perhaps one of the funniest men to ever walk the planet, and seemed to be having the time of his life doing what he did. However, there was much more going on underneath the surface, and the world soon found out about the crisis that had been long brewing. While it was assumed that Williams suffered from mental illness, depression and anxiety, his autopsy uncovered the presence of a debilitating brain disease called Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia or Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).
DLB is the often misdiagnosed, second most common neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimer's, which causes fluctuations in mental status, hallucinations and motor function impairment. The disease struck Williams hard the year before he took his life, including symptoms like heightened levels of anxiety, delusions and depression. Depression and anxiety is a cultural epidemic that lures too many people into the trap of alcoholism and drug dependency, although it was not the case for Williams.
This past week, two other entertainers have lost their battles with addiction.
On Monday nights in the late-‘90s, I used to watch professional WWE wrestler and thought Joan Marie Laurer, whose stage name was “Chyna,” had a bright future ahead. And she probably did at the time.
The former fitness competitor debuted in the WWE (then WWF) in 1997, but left the company in 2001 under “less-than-amicable circumstances.” In those four years, she became the first woman to enter the 30-man Royal Rumble, the only woman to win the Intercontinental Championship (a second-tier men’s belt), and an undefeated women’s champion. “Andre the Giant,” another wrestler before her time, was billed as “the eighth wonder of the world,” and she was given the title of “the ninth.” She even made WWF history as the only undefeated Women's Champion. But it wasn’t enough to sustain her.
There were reports that she used prescription drugs for anxiety and sleep deprivation, as well as that her mental health was in danger. In 2010, she lived through an overdose of sleeping medication. In fact, there were several low points in her career prior to her death on April 20. Before it aired, one may not have expected her appearance on Celebrity Rehab to be one of them. Early in her segment of the show hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky, she admitted uncertainty about her reason for being there. She was told by counselor Bob Forrest, “Your misery is caused by drugs and alcohol but you can’t see it, so it really doesn’t matter what everybody else sees.”
This year, her name has been added to the list of the show’s alumni who lost their battles with addiction. For this, although he claims to be faultless, Dr. Drew has been criticized. In an interview with CNN, he defended the show in spite of the associated casualties. He said, “If I was doing a show on cancer there would not be much surprise when my cancer patient died. In fact, we’d celebrate a few years of good quality life. People don’t understand that addiction has virtually the same prognosis.”
While some celebrities are more open about their issues with addiction, others are much more private. No one but insiders knew that Prince, the mega-star musician, who died on April 21, was a long-time user of painkillers, including Percocet, the drug he reportedly overdosed on when he was found dead in the elevator in his home. There seems to be a debate about whether Prince’s drug use was more for his physical ailments such as extreme hip and ankle pain, or his social anxiety and stage fright. Either way, he chose to inappropriately rely on substances, and cut his life short.
The details of their stories may be somewhat different, yet Williams, Chyna and Prince all have a few things in common, aside from their untimely deaths. They all exhibited their talents in a way that made the world a more interesting place to live. But mostly, they all needed more help than they received or were able to attain for themselves.