Robin Williams' suicide brings back pain of lost friend

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Photo: Alexis Arguello

Alexis Arguello, right, connects with a right jab against Aaron Pryor during a fight at Caesars Palace on September 9, 1983 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (The Ring Magazine, The Ring MagazineGetty Images / September 9, 1983)

I don't have any heartwarming stories of Robin Williams to regale you with, as we mourn the death of a funnyman who shed tears of a clown behind dark shadows.

I ran into Williams once, at a bathroom in a Las Vegas casino years ago, and purposely avoided the starry-eyed temptation of saying something stupid. I walked in, he walked out, and I never saw him in person again.

But I did know Alexis Arguello very well.

Like Williams, he was a bit of a funny man, albeit unintentionally at times. Once, at a crowded bar in Tokyo, he said over the disco din, "you know I like this place, but there's too many Japanese people here."

There were no racial implications; just another one Alexis' quirky observations.

He wasn't nearly as famous as Williams, although you will find him in the Boxing Hall of Fame as a three-time world champion who rose to prominence in a breathtaking loss to Aaron Pryor in Miami's Orange Bowl in Miami in 1982.

Arguello was a gracious gentleman outside the ring, a kind-hearted soul who seemed mismatched for his profession.

But much like Williams, something was amiss. Demons, some of us would say. But labels can be misleading, and too easy of a one-size-fits-all diagnosis for pop psychologists. Alcohol, drugs and depression are a volatile mix.

Williams and Alexis shared that ride, both ending in suicide.

Williams, 63, hung himself with a belt in his home Monday night. Arguello, 57, shot himself in the chest with a 9mm pistol in his home just outside of Managua, Nicaragua, in July 2009.

There was some circumstantial chatter about whether it was suicide or murder — Alexis had political enemies in Nicaragua, where he returned after retiring — but conspiracy theories don't reconcile with the reality that Alexis was a troubled man.

He had a history of sobriety problems, involving the usual suspects — alcohol and cocaine. During induction ceremonies for the Hall of Fame in 2001, he spoke openly with several journalists and friends about a depressive, suicidal funk.

"I slept two or three times with a knife," Arguello told Tim Graham of Espn.com.

"I'm doing fine now, but there was a time not long ago that I was in such a low state, I had a loaded gun in my hand and gave a thought to pull the trigger and end my life," he told the late Bill Gallo of the New York Daily News.

"But, luckily I thought about my wife and kids and wondered what kind of coward I would be leaving them. I changed my mind, dropped the gun and decided what I really wanted was to live."

Arguello changed his mind again eight years later, checking out way too soon.

Mental illness doesn't discriminate based on how much fame and fortune you accumulate. These are the sobering takeaways from these kind of tragedies.

Williams gave me a laugh track for life with his ad-lib genius.

Arguello extended a hand and gave me fabulous memories to share. I still remember the night he invited me for drinks in Atlantic City, years after he had retired and was working as a boxing analyst.

I met him at a bar and sat next to "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler. We ditched Hagler at some point, and went bar-hopping in a limousine. We ended up having scrambled eggs in a breakfast joint early in the morning after a classic all-nighter.

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