The world is saddened by the fact that Robin Williams found it necessary to take his own life. We will never know, I suspect, what the cause was or whether it was the result of a multitude of problems, including his addiction to drugs. My own concern is the effect that being an older person in the entertainment industry may have had upon him.
This is one area where the effect of ageism is really a major problem. During my research into ageing I interviewed 2 older people in this field- one was a political cartoonist, the other an actor. Without being prompted both commented on the fact that they had survived, and continued to work, in an area where older people were particularly overlooked.
As an outsider I would have thought that the added knowledge and experience that older people have acquired should have been a distinct advantage in this industry yet apparently these don’t add value. In case you don’t realise the extent of this there has been plenty of research done but just from our own experience the situation is obvious, particularly in the theatre and on television. The next time you go to see a play or watch television look out for older people being involved. In the community approximately 12% (it varies a bit by region) are aged 65 and over yet the portrayal of older people in these two areas is much smaller than this. Worse still older people are often portrayed as silly in their behaviour, comic figures.
This must have an effect on older people involved in this industry. Is their best work behind them? Are they likely to get more work and will they still be as popular as they were in the past?
The only way we are going to change things is to raise awareness of the situation. I remember when female sport was barely mentioned in the media. Publicity given to the amount of print dedicated to women’s sport in specific newspapers soon brought about change. The idea that women would perhaps be reluctant to purchase specific newspapers in favour of others meant that women’s sport was quickly elevated and reported on. This had a tremendous influence and made it much more prestigious. The public view of the situation changed.
We need to barrack for older people in all areas of life.