Robin Williams 1951-2014: the burdens of creativity

(13 August 2014)  Millions of people around the world are mourning the passing of beloved American actor and comedian Robin Williams who died by his own hand on Monday.  Williams had endured a life-long struggle with depression and substance abuse which belied his high energy and cheerful public persona.  He was 63.  Williams was known for his lightning quick wit and improvisational ability in his comic roles as well as his depictions of tender and often wounded souls in his dramatic performances.  He also had a singular talent for creating -- often on the spot -- numerous voices, characters, and hilarious dialogue for his many animated children's films.  As a measure of his popularity, his many films are said to have grossed $5 Billion.

While astrology can only begin to capture his unique genius, Williams does have a remarkable horoscope that befits one of the most popular actors of all-time.  Venus is usually a dominant planet in the charts of entertainers as it reflects an aesthetic sensibility that is pleasing to others.  His Venus was conjunct Ketu in the 11th house (gains!) in a close opposition to the Moon, which was tightly conjunct Rahu.  The Venus-Moon aspect is a marker for an ability to please others through aesthetic creativity such as acting.  The fact that Venus rules Libra, the rising sign, suggested how artistic pursuits would be the guiding force of his whole life. 

But above all, the nodes Rahu and Ketu gave Williams' his trademark off-the-wall quality.  His unusual and sometimes eccentric performances dazzled audiences with their originality and unexpected connections between seemingly disparate ideas.  This is the perfect embodiment of Venus with Ketu and the Moon with Rahu.  Ketu seeks to escape the normal confines of reality and erase boundaries of convention.  His Venusian artistic efforts would therefore have some of this original Ketuvian texture. In a real sense, Williams' entire career was directed towards this goal.  His original role as the alien Mork in the hit 70s show Mork and Mindy carved out his essential artistic focus as an outsider who held up the mirror to his audience and offered provocative insights into everyday life.  We can also see that both Venus and Ketu were sitting almost exactly on the 11th house cusp which represents gains.   It is hard to think of a more fitting astrological signature of gains and rewards through unusual and original artistic endeavors.

The other defining characteristic of Robin Williams' career is the often manic and frenetic quality to his comic performances.   Jokes would be told in rapid-fire sequence often through voicing different made-up characters.  Very often, scripts would be discarded as Williams' would improvise entire routines on the movie set while the show's writers would be forced to quickly write down what he said.  Williams' had an enormous energy within himself and this is obviously seen through his close Mars-Uranus conjunction in the 9th house. Mars symbolizes energy of all kinds whereas Uranus often acts as an amplifier for the planets it contacts.  Uranus is also associated with independent and rebellious efforts that are designed to upset the traditional order.  Interestingly, Mars is the 2nd house ruler (speech) since Williams had Scorpio in the 2nd house.  This is a very apt reflection of his style since the Mars-Uranus pairing would tend to reflect more directly through his speaking style.  Rahu's 5th house trine aspect to Mars only increased the energy level of Mars that much further.  The Mars energy for bold and initiating action is tremendous in this chart.  At the same time, it seems like it could easily be too much, as if an electrical circuit has too much current running through it.

His rare gift for brilliant improvised comedy may also be seen through the position of Mercury near the Midheaven in conjunction with Pluto.  The Midheaven is name given to the unequal 10th house cusp and is often connected with career and status.  Since Mercury is the planet of communication and speech, it should not be surprising that it was at the highest point in the sky at the time of Williams' birth.  Among other things, Pluto is associated with fame and notoriety and when it is close to a traditional planet like Mercury, it can provide a significant boost.  Jupiter's aspect to Mercury likely gave another lift to Mercury and thus to his ability to communicate.  The bottom line is this placement of Mercury and Pluto near the cusp is a very important reason for Williams' great fame and success. 

But despite the undeniable talent and massive success, Williams' still had his demons.  Again, the astrology provides very clear and convincing evidence of potential problems here.  Mental health is seen through the Moon first and foremost.  His Moon was tightly conjunct Rahu -- a classic red flag for possible mental problems.  Of course, not all people who are born with Moon-Rahu have mental troubles.  More broadly, this pairing creates heightened perception and sensitivity.  This perceptiveness would obviously be an asset for his career in performing arts.  The problem here is that the Moon-Rahu conjunction is in the 5th house of mind and the intellect.  This is too close for comfort in some ways since it directly connects the Moon's tendency to dissolve the boundaries (Rahu) between Self and Other with the mental faculty as seen through the 5th house.  Also the Moon is in Aquarius which is one of the most unconventional and experiment sign placements.  Aquarian Moons have a special fondness for "being different" and if that is mixed with Rahu's disruptive and weird energy, there can be problems. 

Further, the Aquarian Moon is in the sign of Saturn, which is badly placed in the dussthana 12th house in Virgo.  The 12th house symbolizes separation and loss and if it is associated with an afflicted Moon, it can mean that special sensitivities can overwhelm the person and force them to seek relief through unhealthy means such as drugs and alcohol.   Neptune is the planet of (self-) deception and illness and its placement in the 12th house with Saturn is quite appropriate.  The square aspect of Mars to Neptune and the 12th house cusp suggests that Williams was more likely to seek escape from reality through drugs and booze.  Neptune was just four degrees from the cusp so that increased the potential for drug problems. 

At the time of his death, both Mars (15 Libra) and Saturn (23 Libra) were quite close to his Ascendant at 19 Libra.  This is a very difficult double whammy from those malefic planets.  The depressing heaviness of Saturn was punctuated by the negative energy offered by Mars.  Saturn may have reflected his sense of personal failure following the cancellation of his recent television show.  Tragically, Mars may have given him the energy needed to act on that sense of hopelessness and end his life.   As an added burden, transiting Pluto (17 Sagittarius) was opposing his Mars (18 Gemini) and may have provided a further catalyst for his irrational action.  Transiting Rahu (27 Virgo) was also close enough to Neptune (23 Virgo) that we may wonder if drugs may have played an immediate role in his suicide.   There were no doubt other astrological factors involved in his tragic end, but these transits were certainly not helpful.

Robin Williams was a gifted but tormented artist.  Many people question whether this is a necessary connection between genius and mental illness, especially as it pertains to the arts where sensitivity and creativity are so important.  My understanding of astrology suggests that this connection is no accident.  Much of Williams' originality derived from the prominence of both Rahu and Ketu along with their further degree-wise alignment with the Ascendant and Mars.  This usually confers high levels of creativity but also a greater potential for emotional problems.  The Moon is key in this respect in its participation in that broader alignment of planets at 16-18 degrees of their respective signs. 

The very placements that helped him gain fame and success also made him emotionally vulnerable and made his susceptible to substance abuse as a way to ease his pain.  The sensitivity and perceptiveness of his Moon was a key to his uniquely funny world-view but it also likely made it harder for him to cope.   Not all performers are tormented, of course, since many have very strong Moons or do not have such intense Mars energy which can easily overload.  But in charts like Williams' which have prominent nodal placements and Moons that are compromised, there is a much higher likelihood for personal suffering.  Through astrology, we can say that Pagliacci, the sad clown, is an enduring archetype for good reason.