He is a doctor, activist and clown, and better known as the "doctor of laughter therapy", although he does not like to associate "laughter" with "treatment" because humor is much more important to him. His dream is to practice happy, fun, loving, cooperative, creative, and considerate medicine. Patch Adams.
Doctor, activist and clown. The order of the factors does not alter the human stature of Hunter Doherty Patch Adams, touching the two meters of height, frightening the sky with his multicolored ponytail of eternal "hippie". At 69 years old, the most iconoclastic and irreverent doctor on the planet, immortalized in the cinema by Robin Williams, continues to propagate his very personal vision of health and ruthlessly lash out at the system.
Since 1971, the peculiar revolution of the famous doctor and comedian has a name: Gesundheit ("health", in German). This is the name of his dream, not yet fully realized, of building a rural hospital in West Virginia where he can practice medicine with six fundamental qualities: happy, fun, loving, cooperative, creative and considerate.
Were you before a clown, activist or doctor?
Let's say that being a doctor and a clown is the noblest form of activism. Although I think the first spark was activism. When I was a teenager I had a really hard time. They made life miserable for me at school and I couldn't bear the injustices in the segregated south where I grew up. I tried to kill myself and they put me in a psychiatric hospital. And there I discovered not only that I could heal myself but that I could help others. So I made a resolution to myself: "Instead of trying to kill myself, I'm going to be happy at all costs ... And I'm going to start a revolution based on love."
What is the worst disease?
Market capitalism, no doubt. We have turned medicine into a dirty and greedy business, a mercantile by-product that treats people as mere consumers, and not as citizens or persons. What can you expect from a doctor who spends seven minutes on average with his patients, as in the United States? What can you expect from a dehumanized system that profits from disease? Sometimes I think Freud was right, when he wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents that perhaps mental illness is the natural response to a deranged society.
Is the health system the reflection of a sick society?
I would say that it is cause and effect. As long as the dominant values remain power and money, there is nothing to do. The winner takes it all: that is the law of life that is imposed on us by this male system that continues to prevail at all levels, from health to religion.
And what is the best recipe?
What we need is to feminize society. More women leaders are needed, but not in the style of Thatcher or Condoleeza Rice. We have to turn the scale of values to put above all generosity and compassion, which are two feminine virtues. There is nothing like giving yourself to others. Peace, justice and love, that's my favorite trinity.
And what does all this have to do with being dressed as a clown?
Even the most serious leader loses his composure when he sees me dressed this way. Humor is a weapon of mass disarmament ...
Why then does it bother you to be called by the Doctor of Laughter or the Father of Laughter Therapy?
Laughter is not therapy, and neither is music. Therapy sounds like surgery, homeopathy, treatment ... Laughter and music are much more. I would say that they are life itself, an essential part of our human condition. What is not human is seriousness. I do not know of a single disease that can be cured with seriousness, anger or apathy. We won't get very far if we get too serious. The most healing is love, humor, and creativity.
Are there still doctors with a soul?
Definitely. Many people come to medicine out of a pure vocation, because they want to help people. There is no greater delight in life than giving yourself to others and no greater privilege than caring for something or someone. I've been doing it most of my life and I would continue to pay to be able to do it for many years.
What is the relationship between medicine and poetry? We just heard him recite Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" from memory ...
Poetry is also healing. It is something like a potion that reminds us of our human condition. It transports us to another dimension and makes life richer and more intense. It also helps me to exercise my memory. I have dozens of books recorded on my brain: it is a very healthy practice that I started practicing when I was young and I continue to exercise it.
With the cinema, however, it had its pluses and minuses. Is it true that you didn't like the movie?
I had my pluses and minuses with the "clichés" of the film and with the overall result. But I always had great admiration and respect for Robin Williams. He was a great comedian, a master of improvisation. But not only that: he had a great human size. He was a generous and compassionate guy. He knew how to de-dramatize situations and create a good atmosphere around him.
How was your relationship with him?
We had a pretty close relationship before, during and immediately after the movie. He invited us to his house, and there I could see his true personality. At heart he was an introvert who lived under the weight of fame. As a young man he had problems with addiction to alcohol and drugs, as an adult he sought refuge in solitude ... It hurt me, of course, that he did not donate part of the 21 million dollars he collected from the Gesundheit Institute. People at the studios warned me: Don't even ask Robin for a penny. I naively believed that the film would serve to give a great boost to the project, and it was not. Robi Williams made me famous, but I would have wanted something more.
How did your suicide affect you?
His death made me sad and made me think a lot about the causes. I believe that Robin Williams died under the weight of his own role. Millions of fans expected a lot from him, and he was really well-liked: I think few actors reached his level. He was a tremendously funny man, but in the way he looked and spoke you could also perceive a background of sadness. And also a lot of humility: I never saw him put himself above anyone. He was never famous, but perhaps the fame weighed more than the account.
And what is your personal antidote to fame?
I pinch myself a lot and hurt myself. I shy away from autographs and only lend myself to taking selfies with people if we do something irreverent, stick our finger up our noses and put on a clown face. And I personally answer dozens and dozens of letters by hand every month. I still travel about 300 days a year: writing to people, in all parts of the world, is the perfect cure for nostalgia.