As the news emerged that Robin Williams was facing severe financial pressure, perhaps to the point of it being a life crisis his death became for me both more tragic and more emblematic of the looming Boomer financial challenge
Author’s note: I wrote this as a cathartic exercise for myself and debated whether or not to publish it, for fear of being accused of click baiting. Yet his circumstances, his age and his death by his own hand raise some important issues for those of us selling to the Boomer and older generations.
I confess that the suicide death of Robin Williams hit me harder than I would have ever imagined. I think what made him so unique was that he was kind of like that weird, geeky kid in middle school or high school that you laughed at and with, envied but didn’t want to be like. At the same time you looked at him and thought, “He is so funny, and I almost think I could do that if I could just let go of the embarrassment factor.” At the end of the day he was able to make us laugh and cry and gave us hope in a way that stayed with us beyond the performance itself. Somehow he allowed us, for at least a few days, to see the world with more hope and more good humor. Yesterday, as the news emerged that Robin Williams was facing severe financial pressure, perhaps to the point of it being a life crisis, I thought about our shared generation. His death became for me both even more tragic and emblematic of the looming Boomer financial challenge, one that could prove a life crisis for many, many Boomers.
Living Hard, Fast and Large
I confess that, when I first heard Williams had committed suicide, I was amazed and disgusted. I thought, “How dare he do this to those he loved?”, particularly given his success and wealth. As the reports about his battles with drugs, alcohol and depression came out, I was no more sympathetic. Rather, at some level, I was even more angry, seeing the drugs and alcohol as bad, self-indulgent choices. Then, after hearing about his financial crisis, I came to realize that, in a bigger than life way, he represents the emerging Baby Boomer plight:
- He was brilliant, he worked hard and he made great money.
- He lived life to the fullest, taking advantage of a time in our society when there were so many opportunities to spend money on pleasure.
- I suspect that, along the way, there were times when he looked at his financial situation and realized he should be more responsible, but thought that there would be enough time do that later. The problem is that, for all of us, even the wealthy, as income increases, the financial obligations also seem to increase, at an even more rapid pace.
- Then, in his 60’s, the big pay day offers slowed down. His most recent television show was canceled, his latest movie bombed and he needed money, but it wasn’t so easy to get.
Boomers: My Generation, His Generation
This is the plight of the Boomer Generation. Saving was not so important and there were . . . and are . . . so many demands for cash. We didn’t stay employed at the same company for 30 or 40 years, racking up a decent pension. Saving was hard, spending easy. Then the economy crashed and many boomers lost their jobs, cashed in their tiny retirement accounts and mortgaged their homes. A few will be fortunate enough to inherit additional resources that will allow them to have a comfortable retirement but most will not. On one hand one might argue that, like Williams, these are self-inflicted circumstances. Even if that is true it does not solve the problem. Somehow, as a nation, we need to be thinking about how to care for my spendthrift generation. The senior living industry needs to be thinking about how we might create products that will meet this emerging need. It could be our opportunity to prevent these self-inflicted but despair inducing deaths. Steve Moran
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