Robin Williams and Phil Ochs: Two Tragic Artists Shaped By Pathos and Optimism

January 5, 2015 10:19 PM

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As I listened to Tom Paxton's "Phil," a paean song for his friend and colleague Phil Ochs, I immediately thought of Robin Williams. "I opened the paper, there was your picture/Gone, gone, gone with your own hand/I couldn't believe it, the paper was shakin'/Gone, gone, gone by your hand. I know I'm gonna spend the rest of my lifetime wondering why/You found yourself so badly hurt you had to die." Phil Ochs, one of the true singer-songwriters of the 1960s, hanged himself at his sister's Far Rockaway home on April 9, 1976. Robin Williams, the comic genius and accomplished actor and humanitarian, also committed suicide 38 years later on August 11, 2014, at his home in Paradise Cay, California. These two men shared the oft-times lonely and melancholic roles of lifting up the human condition through their art, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.

During his career, Ochs performed hundreds of his songs at many political events, including anti-Vietnam protests and civil rights rallies, as well as at student and organized labor events. Many of Ochs' closest friends and family said he might have battled bipolar disease even before it was recogni...

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