Carrie Fisher on Robin Williams: He Opened Up to Me About Bipolar Disorder
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Following a performance of her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, a few years back, Carrie Fisher was surprised to see one of her longtime friends show up backstage, alone and in a particularly serious mood. His name: Robin Williams.
During an exclusive chat with THR by telephone from London, Fisher recounted the details of their discussion in her dressing room. And while she said she had seen Williams between that night and his tragic suicide on Aug. 11, something about that particular evening — his energy and their conversation about bipolar disorder (a prominent subject of her Broadway show and book of the same name) — has stuck with her all these years.
"He … looked lost, kind of, and he said that he didn't think he was bipolar. He took the test that I gave the audience and got all the answers right, but didn't think [being bipolar] was something that had anything to do with him," recalled Fisher, who has been candid about her own struggles with mental illness and addiction. "I never heard anything so off the mark. Like I did, he was driven by that frantic eagerness that you don't just want someone to like you, you want to explode on their night sky like a miracle. And he did."
Fisher couldn't pinpoint the specific moment that she first met the comedian, but said they had been friends for years, as well as colleagues. "After Postcards [From the Edge], I was hired by [Steven] Spielberg to rewrite Tinkerbell for Hook, and just to write one part. We were put together by Steven to improvise Robin's character and Tinkerbell's interactions," she said. "It was the ideal environment. Robin was astonishing."
Even off-set, Fisher said she was blown away by his charisma and the way in which he absorbed his surroundings. "Robin had rampant empathy," explained Fisher, who is currently on location reprising her role as Leia in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII. "Everything would end up on his grid. He'd walk in a room, and all the energy there would impact him. He was the opposite of selfish. Anything would hurt him. Or … impact him somehow."
Perhaps it was that unrelenting stream of emotion that led Williams down a difficult path with substance abuse, she said. The comedian had been open in various interviews over the years about his struggles with alcohol and cocaine, as well as stints in rehab. "It's fun to be brilliant, but who are your peers? Who was his peer?" asked Fisher. "It's incredibly lonely to be that. And he didn't have a choice. And that's why you take drugs, so you can slow up and smell the roses just to know that they are there, and it's not all you. Drugs for a lot of people kept them alive. Without them they would've committed suicide. Not that I think that in any way drugs are positive. But I can certainly understand what drove his need for them, his appetite for them."
Substances aside, Fisher described Williams as the "center of attention" in any room, which is why she said she was so drawn to him. "He was something you just don't see, like a comet. I hope he's like a comet and he comes again, but that would be selfish,” she said, adding that his energy and comic delivery was "unstoppable." "I'm sorry he punctuated his sentence before it had run its course. But he packed in five lifetimes before he left."
So accomplished was Williams that Fisher likened him to legends like Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.
"The reason I bring up the conversation after the play is because we were both slowed down. That was the one time that he was very serious. … I could tell he was struggling then. … But when you get there, it's hard to talk. You are reaching out from such a far away place. What do you say? You don't want to be a burden and you don't want to seem like you feel sorry for yourself — it's humiliating among so many other things," Fisher said, before tearing up on the other end of the line. "He made us all feel like he wished he could. He brought joy and surprise, and he would take you places you wouldn't even know you wanted to be. He gave you all the things he would've wanted to have. And that's what made him so generous."
To read more tributes to Williams, click here.