Behind the smile


As news broke of Robin Williams’ untimely death this past week, thousands of people took to social media to reflect on the life of the 63-year-old actor. A photo posted on Twitter caught my attention in particular. It was an image of the much-loved actor belting out a laugh alongside the Two-Headed Monster from the children’s TV show Sesame Street

It takes great strength and courage to step out from translucency—where things are seen in part—into transparency—where things are seen in full.

The photo (see below) oozes with joy—something Williams has brought to the world since his rise to fame in the 1980s. That’s how I knew him too—as the funny guy behind iconic characters such as Genie (from Aladdin), Mrs Doubtfire and Patch Adams.

It wasn’t until reading the details surrounding his death that I found out about Williams’ struggles with alcohol, drugs and depression, with the latter surfacing as a “severe” problem in recent years. Who knew so much darkness could be hiding behind such a bright smile?

One man who knows about the highs and lows of being “the funny guy” is Graeme Frauenfelder. The Adventist “humanitarian adventurer and creative educator”—or clown—has spent years bringing joy and laughter to the lives of thousands of people around the world. Serving in this way may lead you to assume he’s always happy. But it hasn’t been all “sunshine, lollipops and rainbows”.

“There were some extremely dark and painful periods in my life, where I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts,” Graeme says. “Engaging with people, opening up and seeking help was so important in bringing me out of the darkness. You don’t get anywhere through avoidance.”

Don’t think for a moment the “happy clown” get-up is just a cover. “The happiness and clowning isn’t a mask,” says Graeme, who is a friend of the real-life Patch Adams. “It’s a real authentic part of me, just as much as the darkness and struggles. It’s not an either or, or a put on.”

Happiness has played a key role in Graeme’s life, but so has honesty. Some people feel admitting to struggle is a sign of weakness, but that’s simply not true. It takes great strength and courage to step out from translucency—where things are seen in part—into transparency—where things are seen in full.

The Bible challenges us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). The only way we can do that is by sharing them with each other. It’s a difficult step, but one worth taking. After all, we were never meant to walk this road of life alone. “Two are better than one . . . if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV).

When I saw the photo of Robin Williams laughing it up with the Two-Headed Monster, the following lyrics came to mind:

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain[?]—Casting Crowns

It’s a question worth considering. Are we simply “happy plastic people”? Or are we brothers and sisters in Christ, ready to share and “bear one another’s burdens”?

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. To see the Record InFocus interview with Graeme Frauenfelder, visit <>.

Linden Chuang is assistant editor of Record—digital.