‘This is a man who gave us the best of what he had’: Glenn reflects on the life of Robin Williams

On Monday, actor and comedian Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide at his California home. He was 63. On radio this morning, as someone who lost two family members to suicide and contemplated taking his own life, Glenn offered a unique insight into the life and death of the Hollywood heavyweight. Glenn shared his personal struggle with depression, addiction, and suicide and explained why audience laughter and adulation may have been the thing that kept Williams going as long as he did.

Below is an edited transcript of the monologue:

Sad news yesterday: Robin Williams died at 63. It looks like he hung himself. We'll have the official report today – as if it matters. The family asked for privacy and respect. It would be nice if we would give it to them. This is a man who gave us the best of what he had. A man who made us laugh, made us cry. He is one of the greatest clowns to live in the last hundred years.

I didn't know Robin Williams. But I think all of us felt we knew Robin Williams. We all knew that there was something inside of him that drove him to the point of madness. We all, I think, knew that something was inside of him that caused great pain. I'd like to believe that maybe, just maybe, we helped him live a little longer. I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about why comedians are like this. I'm not really sure. I'm not a doctor. We've had two suicides in my family, in my immediate family. Clinically, there's something that happens to people. There is that side of it.

If you're in a family that's dysfunctional, sometimes you become the one that makes everybody laugh because it's too horrible not to. If you could just make people laugh, you could find joy in their laughter, until you no longer hear the laughter anymore. It becomes almost addictive. I think Robin Williams was addicted to our laughter, addicted to our smiles, addicted to being able to make us feel better. It's a powerful tonic. In a way it's what we're all supposed to learn about, service. In the end, that's we're our highest self. That's when he was his highest self: Serving us, making us laugh.

How many people can cross all these boundaries? How many people could claim to have huge fans – that he really profoundly touched and maybe even perhaps changed the course of their life – in their 20s and have somebody my age, 50 or 60 that can say the same thing? That guy really touched me. I think Jeffy brought in the Mork from Ork doll today. I have it sitting on my desk today. What a great show. And how many things did he do that affected us and changed us?

I'm sure people will start to have the conversation on television, as they always do, because they're insipid and they're shallow and they're thinking is the kind of thinking that makes you fly a helicopter over a dead man's house. But I'm sure the conversations will go, ‘What was wrong with him?’ ‘What was the tragedy in his life?’ ‘What would drive him to this?’ ‘What could we have done to save him?’

Most likely, nothing.

What drove him to do this insanity: The insanity of clinical depression. I don't want to talk about Robin Williams' illness because nothing drives you to suicide other than insanity. But let me tell you something: The mind is one of the most powerful traps you have ever seen. The best piece of advice ever got from an alcoholic was: When you least expect it, expect it. It came from a good friend of mine, Jim Lago.

When you least expect it, expect it.

I didn't know what it meant at the time. What it meant was: You know yourself better than anybody. Your mind is an amazing machine, and you will build up a wall of defense on your alcoholism, and you will know, ‘I'm not going to drink.’ And somehow or another, one day, it will happen that you will think to yourself, ‘You know what? Well, this is different. I'm not going to drink because of this. This is a good reason to do it.’ And before you know it, because you didn't expect it to come that way, you'll find yourself drinking.

I am someone who was saved by a guy named Bobby Dries, a good friend of mine. Bobby was a guy who knew what suicidal tendencies were. He also knew my familial history. We worked together. Bobby had seen me spiral out of control when I was in Louisville, Kentucky. And one day I came in and I just said, ‘I'm going. Can't work here anymore. I'm leaving.’ He said, ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I don't know. Just not here.’

What he didn't know was every day for six months I was driving to work and there was a bridge abutment on 84 that I would pass every day on the way to and from work. And I would pray as soon as I got on Highway 84, in either direction, ‘Lord, just give me the strength to pull my car into it today.’ Every day that bridge abutment had my name on it. It was my cowardice that stopped me from killing myself. Thank God the Lord made me a coward. I couldn't think of shooting myself was too awful. Hanging myself was too much. But maybe, maybe I could pull my car into that bridge abutment.

Bobby said, ‘Would you do me a favor? Would you come with me to the hospital?’ I don't know why I said ‘yes,’ but I did. I met a doctor in the emergency room who medicated me, and it stopped me from praying for that bridge abutment. At that time, that seemed logical to me. It seemed like the only thing that I could do. I knew I was hurting everybody in my life. I knew that I was the cause of my problems. And there was no way out.

That is insanity.

Robin Williams' death is tragic, but I will tell you this: Out of his death will come laughter because someone right now – who is at that point of insanity – will find themselves some day laughing. The person who is feeling this way has to just have the glimmer of hope that tomorrow will be different – and if not tomorrow, the next day – that it will get better. It won't get better doing the same stuff that you're doing now, but it will get better.

I think Robin Williams fought this battle for so long, and – it's none of our business – but I don't know what was happening in his life that caused him to at some point say, ‘I don't want to take the medication anymore,’ or ‘I want to stop looking for what it is.’

Because there are two kinds of depression: I've done something, and it screwed me up. That's normal depression. But it can spiral into something called clinical depression where your brain chemistry actually changes, and that's where nothing makes sense anymore. You're just not thinking rationally. It happens so slowly. You slide into it so slowly. You don't notice.

I feel for Robin Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, who said, “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.”

People who are in Robin Williams' position are great liars because they have spent their whole life lying to themselves. They have spent their whole life lying to audiences about how they really feel. In my mind's eye I see Robin Williams' wife kissing him goodbye, not knowing, and her saying, ‘Are you okay?’ And him looking her in the eye and lying to her and saying, ‘I'm fine,’ knowing that today would be his last day.

Sometimes no one can reach out to somebody because they don't want to listen. They're just tired. I know when I was in that position, I was just tired. My mother was just tired. My brother-in-law was just tired. Sometimes it ends horribly, but, other times, all it takes is someone to say, ‘It's going to get better. It's going to be okay.’ I know. I've been there.

If that happens to be you on either side of that equation, hear those words. If you're on the receiving end, hear those words because they're true. Maybe, however, you're on the giving end, and you know somebody that you're worried about, know that there's nothing that you can do to change them. But you can give them hope by just using those simple words: ‘It doesn't have to be this way. It's going to get better. There is help.’

The themes of healing and redemption appear throughout the Bible.

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. — 1 Corinthians 15:43
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. — Mark 2:17.

So, for many Christians, it's no surprise to hear that people of faith live longer lives.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. — Jeremiah 17:14.

But it is certainly lovely to hear, and a recent study by a doctoral student at Ohio State University is just one more example of empirical evidence confirming the healing benefits of faith and religious belief.

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Moreover, the study finds that religious belief can lengthen a person's life.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. — Proverbs 17:22
Lord, your discipline is good, for it leads to life and health. You restore my health and allow me to live! — Isaiah 38:16

The study analyzed over 1,000 obituaries nationwide and found that people of faith lived longer than people who were not religious. Laura Wallace, lead author of the study, noted that "religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life."

The study notes that, "people whose obits mentioned a religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obits did not, which shrunk to 3.82 years after gender and marital status were considered."

And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. — Matthew 10:1

"The researchers found that part of the reason for the boost in longevity came from the fact that many religiously affiliated people also volunteered and belonged to social organizations, which previous research has linked to living longer. The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives," said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

Prayer is good medicine, and faith is a good protector.

In addition, the study showed how the effects of religion on longevity might depend in part on the personality and average religiosity of the cities where people live, Way said.

Prayer is good medicine, and faith is a good protector.

And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. — Luke 5:17
Heal the sick in it and say to them, The kingdom of God has come near to you. — Luke 10:9

In early June, the Social Security and Medicare trustees released their annual report on the fiscal health of these programs, and the situation looks dire. Medicare is scheduled to run out of money in 2026 (three years sooner than anticipated), while Social Security is expected to run out in 2034. The rising national debt is only one of the well-known financial struggles the millennial generation faces. The burdens of student loan debt, high housing prices (thanks to zoning restrictions), stagnant wage growth, the rising cost of healthcare and lingering aftershocks of the Great Recession are among the biggest sources of economic anxiety millennials feel.

Progressive politicians have been very successful at courting the youth vote, partly because they actually promote policy ideas that address many of these concerns. As unrealistic or counterproductive as Senator Bernie Sanders' proposals for single-payer health care or a $15 an hour minimum wage might be, they feel in theory like they would provide the economic stability and prosperity millennials want.

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Republicans, on the other hand, have struggled to craft a message to address these concerns. Fiscal conservatives recognize, correctly, that the burden of the $20 trillion national debt and over $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities will fall on millennials. Some conservatives have even written books about that fact. But the need to reform entitlements hasn't exactly caught millennials' attention. Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, in her book The Selfie Vote, notes that millennials generally view protecting the safety net as more important than reducing the deficit.

Clearly, Republicans have a problem. They need to craft solutions that address the millennial generation's struggles, but they can't seem to sell entitlement reform, their biggest policy preference that addresses those problems. The Republican approach to wooing millennials on policy is failing because talking about stopping the debt from reaching an unsustainable level is long-term and abstract, and offers few immediate tangible benefits. A new approach to both pave the way for entitlement reform and give millennials an immediate financial boost is to first reform not entitlement spending, but the payroll tax: specifically, by partially (or wholly) replacing it with a value-added tax.

Under the current Social Security model, workers pay for the benefits of current retirees through the payroll tax. This system creates the illusion of a pension program, in which what you put in is what you get out, but in reality Social Security is a universal safety net program for the elderly paid for by taxes. The payroll tax falls on workers and is a tax on labor, while the value-added tax (VAT) is a tax on consumption imposed at every part of the production process. Assuming that this policy change is revenue-neutral, switching to a VAT will shift the responsibility for funding Social Security and Medicare away from workers, disproportionately poorer and younger, and onto everyone participating in the economy as a whole. Furthermore, uncoupling Social Security funding from payroll taxes would pave the way for fiscal reforms to transform the program from a universal benefit program to one geared specifically to eliminating old-age poverty, such as means-testing benefits for high-income beneficiaries, indexing benefits to prices rather than wages or changing the retirement age.

Switching from the payroll tax to the VAT would address both conservative and liberal tax policy preferences.

Switching from the payroll tax to the VAT would address both conservative and liberal tax policy preferences. As the Tax Policy Center notes, the change would actually make the tax system more progressive. The current payroll tax is regressive, meaning that people with lower incomes tend to pay a higher effective tax rate than people with higher incomes. On the other hand, the value-added tax is much closer to proportional than the payroll tax, meaning that each income group pays closer to the same effective tax rate.

For Republicans, such a change would fit conservative economic ideas about the long-run causes of economic growth. A value-added tax has a much broader base than the payroll tax, and therefore would allow for much lower marginal tax rates, and lower marginal tax rates mean smaller disincentives to economic activity. According to the Tax Foundation's analysis of a value-added tax, the VAT would be a more economically efficient revenue source than most other taxes currently in the tax code.

Not only would replacing part or all of the payroll tax provide an immediate benefit to millennial taxpayers, it would also open the door for the much-needed entitlement reforms that have been so politically elusive. Furthermore, it would make the tax code both more pro-growth and less regressive. In order to even begin to address the entitlement crisis, win millennial support and stimulate the economy in a fiscally responsible manner, Republicans must propose moving from the payroll tax to the VAT.

Alex Muresianu is a Young Voices Advocate. His writing has appeared in Townhall and The Federalist. He is a federal policy intern at the Tax Foundation. Opinions expressed here are his only and not the views of the Tax Foundation. He can be found on Twitter @ahardtospell.

Glenn was joined by Alanna Sarabia from "Good Morning Texas" at Mercury Studios on Thursday for an exclusive look at Mercury Museum's new "Rights & Responsibilities" exhibit. Open through Father's Day, the temporary museum features artifacts from pop culture, America's founding, World Ward II and more, focusing on the rights and responsibilities America's citizens.

Get tickets and more information here.

Watch as Glenn gives a sneak peek at some of the unique artifacts on display below.

History at the Mercury Museum

Alanna Sarabia interviews Glenn Beck for "Good Morning Texas" at Mercury Studios.

Several months ago, at the Miss Universe competition, two women took a selfie, then posted it on Instagram. The caption read, "Peace and love." As a result of that selfie, both women faced death threats, and one of the women, along with her entire family, had to flee her home country. The occasion was the 2017 Miss Universe competition, and the women were Miss Iraq and Miss Israel. Miss Iraq is no longer welcome in her own country. The government threatened to strip her of her crown. Of course, she was also badgered for wearing a bikini during the competition.

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In an interview, Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, said:

When I posted the picture I didn't think for a second there would be blowback. I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary. The director of the Miss Iraq Organization called me and said they're getting heat from the ministry. He said I have to take the picture down or they will strip me of my title.

Yesterday, Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, posted another selfie with Miss Israel, during a visit to Jerusalem.

In an interview, she said that:

I don't think Iraq and Israel are enemies; I think maybe the governments are enemies with each other. There's a lot of Iraqi people that don't have a problem with Israelis.

This is, of course, quite an understatement: Iraq, home to roughly 15,000 Palestinians, refuses to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate country, as it is technically at war with Israel. The adages says that a picture is worth a thousand words. What are we to do when many of those words are hateful or deadly? And how can we find the goodness in such bad situations?