WHEN THE 63-year-old comic genius Robin Williams hanged himself this past August in the bedroom of his waterfront Tiburon home, the score of demons he was battling was said to include Parkinson’s disease, ongoing alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and fears of career failure. The Oscar-winning actor may also have been suffering from an undiagnosed case of Lewy body dementia, a surprisingly common condition involving mental impairment, personality changes, and possible hallucinations. After a lifetime devoted to making the world laugh, his suicide and sufferings came as a shock to his devastated fans, including me, a former entertainment reporter who had covered him at the start of his career.
Kitty-corner to Williams on the cultural grid was a writing and teaching colleague, 59-year-old novelist Les Plesko, who leapt to his death from his apartment building roof in Venice, CA, one September morning in 2013. Some of us who knew of his past sufferings and the troubles he faced that autumn weren’t questioning why he killed himself as much as what kept him going for so long. Now, a year after his death, the gentle natured, Hungarian born, American raised writer’s semi-autobiographical novel No Stopping Train (Soft Skull, 2014) has been posthumously published to the critical acclaim he’d dreamed of. It received a coveted starred review in the Library Journal as “a masterwork in language and imagery […] a powerful meditation on his country’s history and the expansiveness of humanity,” declaring “serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.” -Continue-