Robin Williams lost a long battle against depression and substance abuse when he took his own life this week at the age of 63. Like many comedic geniuses, Williams had a dark side that was evident in some of his darker film roles which allowed the multidimensionality of his personality to emerge through the veneer of hilarity.
Depression and addiction take many forms in the astrological chart. A prominent Saturn can cause depression through a sense of one’s own failure. A strong Chiron can bring one’s inner wounds to the surface where emotional sensitivity is the central experience. Neptune can bring about a desire for escapism and a tendency to avoid the harsh realities of life. But underlying many forms of depression we find a weak Mars and a buildup of anger and rage that becomes turned against itself in helplessness.
Anger is associated with depression, and it is often the denied or unexpressed anger or aggression which correlates most closely in depression. In the astrological chart, anger and aggression correlate with the planet Mars. The placement of Mars in the birthchart reveals how comfortable the individual is with expressing their own needs and how they respond when those needs aren’t met. Infants demonstrate the purest expression of Mars: an infant is hungry, they cry to be fed. There are no filters when those needs are expressed but if the needs are not met, frustration is the result. Habitual frustration leads to anger, chronic anger leads to rage. This kind of anger and frustration can erupt into violence on an external level, or internally.
Williams’s astrological chart shows that as the ruler of his Scorpio ascendant, Mars was an important planet and a driver of his personality. Scorpio has a traditional ruler (Mars) and a modern ruler (Pluto), and individuals with Scorpio rising are powerful and charismatic. They are driven and dislike superficiality, preferring to process the stuff of their lives secretly and behind the walls of privacy.
His Mars was actually quite strong – it conjoined Uranus and squared Jupiter, a combination which contributed to his zany zest for life and innovative style of comedy. Uranus represents revolutionary behavior, and Jupiter is expansive and optimistic. In a strong aspect to each other like the square (90 degrees) these two planets create tension and conflict that requires resolution. But his Mars was in the sign of Cancer where it is not easily expressed – in Cancer Mars becomes driven to solve everyone else’s problems. So here was all of this energy, stimulated by Uranus and Jupiter, with no easy outlet. To complicate matters even more, his Mars was also squared by Neptune, the planet of transcendence and addiction, offering a solution.
Williams also had a painful square from Saturn (tests and challenges) to Chiron (soul wounds) that usually denotes an individual who struggles with a deep inner wound in order to find healing and eventual release. This quality was evident in many of Williams’s film roles in which he stretched beyond his comedic talents into exploration of darkness and human complexity.
Robin Williams talked a great deal about fear. In 2003 he said “It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” Asked what he was afraid of, he replied: “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.” In one of my very favorite Robin Williams movies, The Fisher King, he plays a character whose inner demon emerges as a Red Knight, representing this inner demons that pursued him. In my experience battling my own demons I’ve learned we must come face to face with them before they can be conquered although that can be a terrifying experience as we can see in this trailer for the movie (watch for the emergence of the Red Knight at about 1:40).
Over the past year Uranus and Pluto have both been transiting the challenging Mars complex in Williams’s chart, and in the spring Mars in Libra formed a Grand Cross with Uranus in Aries and Pluto in Capricorn. Jupiter, in Cancer, was also involved in that alignment and all of these planets were dancing across Mars in Williams’s chart. The Pluto transit to Mars especially would have worked to dredge up old hurts and resentments and other demons, making it difficult for Williams to avoid relapse. His death is a tragedy and a loss of one of the geniuses of our time.
Update: For those of you who are interested, here is a more complete list of planetary factors at the time of Robin Williams’ death.
- His progressed Sun had aligned with natal Saturn last year and squared his natal Chiron, potentially revealing issues of security, abandonment and isolation.
- Transiting Uranus had been in a square to his natal Mars/Uranus conjunction since last year, potentially triggering a desire for some kind of radical change in his life.
- Transiting Saturn had been in a square to the natal Mercury/Pluto conjunction at the Midheaven since December of last year.
- A series of Jupiter transits in the spring and summer of this year could have given him the confidence he needed to make this happen. We think of Jupiter as always being “good,” but it’s not uncommon to find Jupiter transits at the time of a suicide or major crime spree.
- Transiting Mars over his ascendant at the time of the event.
But to me it was the Pluto transit to his Mars described in the article that really motivated the degree of inner violence required to take his life in this way.