With asteroid Thalia, named for the Greek muse of comedy, running in an ongoing pattern with two asteroids noted as death indicators in the late summer of 2014, it wasn’t surprising to find two comedy legends meeting their ends during that time. Throughout the period from August 11, when Robin Williams committed suicide, to September 4, when Joan Rivers succumbed to complications from a botched elective procedure, Thalia in late Taurus and early Gemini was in trine to Atropos (named for the mythic Greek Fate who severs the thread of life at death) in late Virgo and early Libra, and semisquare Nemesis in mid-Cancer, named for the Greek goddess of vengeance and often associated with undoing. We’ll examine both these tragic, and very different, ends, and the common threads that bind them. [Ed. note: learn more about the association of Asteroid Thalia with comedy and comedians in Alex’s Daykeeper article, “From Chaplin to Ellen, Asteroid Thalia, Muse of Comedy.”)
On Monday, 11 August 2014 the world was shocked and sorrowed to hear of the death of legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams. An apparent suicide, Williams’ personal assistant found him hanging from his bedroom closet door shortly before noon.
The breadth of Williams’ talent is hard to conceptualize. A frenetic, super-charged stand-up performer, his ability to ad-lib was unequaled. In 1992 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ nomination committee refused to submit Disney’s animated “Aladdin” for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, on the grounds that Williams, who voiced the genie, had ad-libbed so much that a large portion of the movie was essentially unscripted. In one brief extemporaneous speech in “Aladdin”, analysts chronicled more than 50 distinct characters, accents, and impressions in under two minutes, all done off the cuff. Williams’ comedy stylings also graced such live action hits as “Hook” (1991), “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) and “The Birdcage” (1996).
But it wasn’t just his comedic performances that drew in audiences. The poignancy of his dramatic roles in such films as “Dead Poets Society” (1989), “The Fisher King” (1991), and “Good Will Hunting” (1997), for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, established Williams as a serious actor to be reckoned with. In total, the global box office take from his more than 80 films is estimated at in excess of $6 billion.
However, as so often with genius, there was a down side as well. Williams struggled with addiction his entire life, and like any good artist, he used this pain in his work, regularly riffing on the life-altering effects of his substance abuse in his stand-up routines. Depression was another frequently-encountered demon, and in the end, it claimed his life. Several days after his death, his wife Susan Schneider revealed that Williams had recently received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which he was grappling with but had not yet made public.
Born at 1:34 PM CST on July 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois (birth data obtained from Lois Rodden’s Astro Data Bank, rated AA). The CST time is accurate, as Chicago hospitals recorded all live births in standard time year round, regardless of local time, until the 1960s. Robin Williams’ birth chart reflects a life torn between comedy and tragedy. His 28 Cancer Sun exactly conjoins a Black Hole, the source of the seemingly boundless energy which animated his performances on stage and screen, at the cost of a private life riddled with addiction and two failed marriages. The Black Hole granted that chameleon-like ability to slip into any guise or character at whim, effortlessly and convincingly, but it also denoted a self-absorption that was crippling to the interpersonal relationships so critical to recovery from habitual substance abuse.
Mercury is the star of the chart; at 22 Leo it exactly conjoins the Midheaven, the point of highest elevation and the focus of all eyes. And indeed, it was Williams’ matchless vocal skills that drove his career (with Mercury just minutes into the Tenth House).
Slipping seamlessly from one persona to the next, Williams riffed off the male and female characters that seemed to explode from his mind with Gatling-gun swiftness and force. A master of accents, he could be an old Yiddish grandpa one moment and an LA Valley Girl the next, with Russian, Indian, Brazilian and Chinese characters in between. Mercury conjoins Pluto at 18 Leo, allowing Williams to manipulate the rich verbal skills he inherited, and empowering his career path in the process. But Mercury/Pluto carries its own demons as well, and can open the native to a dark and threatening Underworld, depressing and bleak.
Williams’ big break came in a one-off guest appearance as Mork the alien in a “Happy Days” episode in February 1978. The character was so wildly popular with fans that ABC added a spin-off, “Mork and Mindy”, to its line-up that fall. The show ran four seasons, by which time Williams was an established film star.
But his early roles on the wide screen garnered little critical acclaim, causing Williams to doubt his talent, and his retreat into drug and alcohol use began, reflected by the Twelfth House placement of Neptune at 16 Libra. His cocaine addiction went largely undetected until the death from overdose of friend and party companion John Belushi in 1982. Williams described this as “a wake-up call”, prompting his first visit to rehab.
Neptunian overindulgence is foreshadowed by its opposition to expansive Jupiter at 13 Aries, which magnifies whatever it touches. Factoring in a Mars/Uranus conjunction at 11 and 10 Cancer in T-Square, this becomes a formative agent of Williams’ character. With his fame (Jupiter) based in an energetic, almost violent (Mars) quirkiness (Uranus), Williams was thrown back on his heels by a lack of faith (Neptune) and the need to escape when reality became too real (Neptune).
Robin Williams is the first celebrity I have profiled who has an asteroid actually named for him—asteroid Robinwilliams (#12820). Astoundingly, although not discovered until 1996, when Williams was 45, this teeny bit of space debris falls at 11 Scorpio, just one degree off his natal 12 Scorpio Ascendant, the point where we present ourselves to the world! This example alone should be sufficient to testify to the power and impact these points have in our lives when they strongly resonate with us.
But the PNA (“Personal Named Asteroid”) story doesn’t end there—there is also a Robyn asteroid, and a Williams. These appear together, at 9 and 6 Leo, in company with two mythic-named asteroids very key to his life path, Thalia and Melpomene, at 13 and 10 Leo respectively.
Individuals having both first and last name PNA referents conjunct in the birth chart tend toward very focused, directed and driven lives, for good or ill. It represents an augmentation of energies, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Thalia is named for the muse of comedy, and is itself exactly conjunct asteroid Circe, the enchantress. Williams certainly bewitched us all with his comedic turns, but Melpomene (named for the muse of tragedy) also here reflects his dramatic abilities, as well as the darker path taken in his private life, and his tragic end.
Speaking of which, self-destruction is hinted at in several “suicide” asteroid placements in the birth chart. These comprise Ajax, Antigone, Arachne, and Phaedra, all classic Greek characters who killed themselves, and Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, who drowned herself in an excess of despair and insanity. Ajax at 10 Cancer falls exactly on the Mars/Uranus conjunction, further activating the Neptune-based T-Square, while Ophelia at 15 Capricorn opposes this and fills in the empty leg of that Grand Cross. Antigone allies with Atropos, named for the mythic Greek Fate who severs the thread of life at death, at 22 and 21 Virgo, both within orb of Saturn, ancient lord of death, at 27 Virgo.
Arachne at 26 Gemini is sextile the Sun and forming a T-Square with the Saturn bundle and natal Chiron at 27 Sagittarius, a point which represents deep wounds which may never heal. There is another facet to this grouping, for it also involves the Galactic Center at 26 Sagittarius, which grants global attention or notice.
In this case, the contact proved powerful for Williams’ career (Saturn), but also his death (Atropos), with his suicide (Antigone/Arachne) garnering immediate international attention. Phaedra conjoins Arachne from 21 Gemini, feeding into the same pattern, and drawing the Antigone/Atropos element more strongly into it. Perhaps significantly, the method chosen by each of these Greek heroines to end her life was hanging.
Williams’ PNA contacts follow him throughout his life and career. His breakout performance in the “Happy Days” episode “My Favorite Orkan” aired 28 February 1978, with the Sun at 9 Pisces exactly on his natal Moon at 9 Pisces—Williams was ready to shine (Sun) and the public (Moon) took notice and embraced him. Jupiter at 26 Gemini trined transit asteroid Robyn at 23 Aquarius and squared natal Saturn at 27 Virgo, providing a personal link (Robyn) to the expansion (Jupiter) of career (Saturn) the role would be for him.
Significantly, it is also exactly opposed the Galactic Center, intimating the global fame to follow. Transit asteroid Williams at 17 Libra was traveling with Pluto at 16 Libra, showcasing the huge transformation and empowerment that was to ensue for Williams personally (these conjoin natal Neptune at 16 Libra, ruling TV; the Pluto conjunction is exact, showing the transformative agent the small screen would be for him). Transit Robinwilliams at 21 Pisces paired with Venus at 18, indicating the immense popular appeal.
The winner of two Emmys, five Grammys, four Golden Globes and two SAG awards, Williams was nominated for an Academy Award four times, winning Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for “Good Will Hunting”. When the awards were presented on March 23, transit Robinwilliams at 28 Pisces aligned with the 2 Aries Sun, marking him as central to the proceedings, and fell in an exact trine to his natal Sun, a karmic benefit long overdue. Asteroids Robyn and Williams were traveling close to each other, at 14 and 4 Capricorn, as in the birth chart, with Williams squared the transit Sun and Robyn exactly squared transit Mars (victory in competition) at 14 Aries, which conjoined natal Jupiter (fame, worldly accolades and honors).
When Robin Williams died on August 11, 2014, the transit Sun at 18 Leo had come to exactly conjoin natal Pluto, potentially marking the day for his death. Mercury at 21 Leo had crested his natal Midheaven and was about to return to its natal degree, culminating its final cycle for the man whose voice captivated millions across the globe. A combination of Jupiter, Requiem (named for the funeral mass for the dead) and Panacea (named for the Greek goddess of medicines, thus ruling any drug or pharmaceutical) at 5, 6 and 7 Leo straddles the natal Robyn/Williams conjunction and tells the guts of the story—a celebrity (Jupiter) death (Requiem) with drug use implications (Panacea—Williams had entered rehab again just weeks before his death, to “focus” on sobriety).
Transit Dionysus (intoxicants) at 26 Gemini was exactly conjunct natal Arachne, with transit Arachne at 26 Aries in exact sextile to this pair and closely squared the natal Sun, binding themes of substance abuse, suicide and core identity.
Transit Robyn at 13 Scorpio had just crossed the natal Ascendant and natal Robinwilliams, and was closing in on Saturn at 17 Scorpio; transit Williams at 29 Scorpio in tandem with Bacchus (god of wine, Dionysus’ Roman counterpart) at 27 repeats the drug theme, and transit Robinwilliams at 20 Cancer was traveling with Nemesis (undoing) at 16 Cancer, the latter exactly squared natal Neptune, planetary ruler of drug use and addiction.
Transit Pluto, planetary ruler of suicide, at 11 Capricorn had been stressing the Mars/Uranus/Ajax combination all year, and now exactly opposed Mars. Transit Ajax at 23 Virgo was conjoined natal Antigone/Atropos and approaching Saturn, following close behind transit Atropos at 29 Virgo, which had recently made its natal Return and passed over the triple conjunction.
Transit Antigone at 15 Virgo was also nearing her Return to her natal degree, while transit Ophelia at 15 Taurus conjoined the Descendant and opposed natal Robinwilliams. Transit Phaedra at 3 Cancer was exactly conjunct transit Osiris, named for the Egyptian god of the dead, and forming a Grand Trine with natal Requiem at 3 Scorpio and the natal Moon at 9 Pisces.
A sad end to one of the most unique and irreplaceable performers the world has ever seen.
Joan Rivers’ death was perhaps less shocking, given her age, but surprising and unexpected nonetheless. A botched elective procedure on her vocal cords at a Manhattan clinic on August 28 led to cardiac and respiratory arrest. The 81-year-old comedienne was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was placed on life support in an induced coma. She died a week later, surrounded by family and friends, and covered in a mink blanket with full hair and make-up.
Even more than Williams, Joan Rivers was a trailblazer, a pioneering woman in stand-up comedy who rewrote the rules to suit her own personal style. In a career extending over five decades, Rivers hit a plethora of high notes, including being the first permanent guest host on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”, a daytime talk show of her own that garnered her an Emmy, and a second career as fashion maven and critic. Her signature line of “Can we talk?” became a sort of shorthand for Rivers’ take-no-prisoners comedy style, at once intimate, gossipy and personal, but also coarse, abrasive and often vulgar.
Although a frequent actress in TV and films, typically in supporting or cameo roles, most of her work was with live audiences in stand-up venues. With several comedy albums and books of humor, as well as autobiographies and satirical “self-help” guides to plastic surgery and aging, Rivers was an all-media phenomenon, whose career paved the way for future generations of female comics, allowing them to address topics previously considered “not nice” for women to tackle (Jack Lemon once walked out of a stand-up performance when she said she’d “put out” to get work, describing her as “disgusting”).
As comedy began to change and new faces dominated the stand-up clubs, Rivers reinvented herself as business mogul. One of the earliest celebrity pitchmen, her forays onto QVC network to promote her own line of jewelry, the Joan Rivers Classics Collection, eventually grossed her over $1 billion in sales, moving more than one million units in just the year before her death.
From jewelry to fashion was just a simple step, and Joan, with daughter Melissa in tow, soon became a regular on the red carpets of every award show from the Oscars to the VMAs, interviewing nominees and critiquing their outfits. Her panel discussion/dissection show, “Fashion Police”, premiered in 2010 and remains a top-rated E! Network production, a weekly hour-long romp through the fashion do’s, don’ts and oh-no-she-didn’ts of the rich and famous.
Rivers even took a stab at reality TV, first as a contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009, and lately starring with her daughter in “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”, which wrapped in May 2014 after four seasons.
Rivers’ big break came in 1965, when she appeared on “The Tonight Show”, at the suggestion of Bill Cosby, who had been impressed by her stand-up act. She and Johnny Carson hit it off immediately; as she took her seat after her first performance there, the typically reserved Carson gushed that she was “going to be a big star!” Frequent return visits morphed into guest hosting gigs when Carson was away; she filled in more than 80 times before NBC offered her an official “Guest Host” position in 1983, the first of its kind.
Three years later, Fox Network offered her a late-night talk show in direct competition to “The Tonight Show”, and when she called Carson to inform him she had accepted, he hung up on her. The two never spoke again; blacklisted from “The Tonight Show” by Carson and his successor Jay Leno, Rivers didn’t return to the show as a guest until Jimmy Fallon invited her in February 2014, 49 years to the day after her first appearance. Although the Fox stint lasted barely six months, Rivers remains the only woman ever to host a late night talk show.
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky at 2 AM EDT on 8 June 1933 in Brooklyn, New York (birth data sourced from Lois Rodden’s Astro Data Bank, A rating), in the early ‘50s Joan took the last name “Rivers” on the advice of her agent. Incarnating less than an hour after a Full Moon, Rivers’ 17 Sagittarius Sun exactly conjoins a Black Hole, a comparatively rare event, given the Moon’s rapid rate of movement, spending just two hours at each degree of the zodiac. The Moon represents the body, the physical container, and Black Holes tend to an amorphous, almost chameleon-like ability to change and adapt, as well as going to extremes, and a need for control.
Joan Rivers is perhaps known for her cosmetic surgeries almost as much as her comedy, with a total transformation in image over the course of her career, well displaying the Black Hole’s ability to completely remake itself, obsess on something, and attract or absorb energy in the process. She once joked to Anderson Cooper that she’d had over 700 plastic surgeries, but whatever the actual figure, her addiction to cosmetic procedures is one of the elements of her larger-than-life persona, which she lampooned by playing herself several times on the series “Nip/Tuck”, centered on a celebrity plastic surgery practice.
Given her reputation for having a potty mouth, it was surprising to find an exact conjunction of Venus and Mercury in her nativity, something normally associated with soft-spoken, genteel phraseology and a desire not to wound others with words, but to pour oil on troubled waters and act as a mediator. In her private life, Rivers exhibited many of these traits, as a loyal friend and staunch supporter of those close to her. But Rivers is a self-described “truth-teller”, something also noted in a Venus/Mercury combination, though generally with less acerbity.
It’s the 16 Gemini Sun, which squares a conjunction of Jupiter and Mars at 14 and 15 Virgo, that activates the brash, brazen, “pushy” and sexually explicit or provocative elements (all Mars) of her character which became the basis of her fame and renown (Jupiter). That Sun square Jupiter emphasizes her larger-than-life quality as well, and its conjunction with Mars ramps up the bombast to fever pitch: despite her diminutive 5’2” frame, Rivers immediately dominates the room.
Adding to her signature nails-on-a-blackboard style is TNO Eris, named for the Greek goddess of discord and noted for its fractiousness and troublemaking, which exactly conjoins the Ascendant at 3 Aries, in tandem with asteroid Icarus (rash, reckless behaviors heedless of the consequences) at 5 Aries. Rivers says what she thinks, and lets the chips fall where they may. Eschewing political correctness, she has never “walked back” a joke, no matter whom it offended, and this risk-taking (Icarus) quality both marked and delayed her success. An exact square from natal asteroid Joan (#2677) at 24 Taurus to Nemesis at 24 Leo marks her as potentially her own worst enemy.
Johnny Carson’s pivotal importance in her career is foreshadowed by three PNA aspects.
- Asteroid Johney (#90308) at 2 Taurus conjoins Thalia, muse of comedy, at 4 Taurus; both are semisquare her Sun. The Johney/Thalia conjunction denotes his recognition of her comedic talent, and the solar aspect indicates a strong influence on her core being (though, as Rivers admits, there was never any personal simpatico between them; off-stage, even during commercial breaks, they never had anything to say to each other).
- A second asteroid Johnny (#3252, spelled like Carson’s first name) at 9 Virgo conjoins Neptune (TV) at 7 Virgo and is bound up with Jupiter (reputation, fame) as well, showing his prime role in expanding her public profile and television audience.
- Asteroid Carson (#6572) at 10 Libra is broadly trine the Sun and conjoins the 3 Libra Descendant, suggesting a major influence on how she came before the world, but also prefiguring the “open enemies” stance their relationship later deteriorated into.
When her big break came with that first “Tonight Show” appearance on 17 February 1965, transit Uranus (shock value, ingenuity, novelty) and Pluto (transformation of circumstance, taboo matters) at 13 and 15 Virgo were squaring the natal Sun and conjoining natal Jupiter/Mars, with the Moon (the public) also passing through that sector of the zodiac that day. Transit asteroid Carson at 28 Virgo conjoined transit Mars at 25, identifying Johnny Carson as her champion, with transit Johnny at 24 Capricorn exactly trined natal Joan, marking his unequivocal support. Transit Thalia at 12 Sagittarius highlighted her natal Sun/Moon opposition, showcasing her comedic talents, and more closely opposed transit Joan at 9 Gemini, identifying her personally with the comedy she presented. Transit Joan also squared that natal Neptune/Jupiter/Mars combination, and squared transit Saturn at 6 Pisces, uniting elements of fame, success and career, with Saturn opposed Neptune suggesting a new career based in TV media.
When Joan Rivers died on September 3, transit asteroid Joan had just come to its direct station, signifying a major turning point. At 16 Capricorn it was within orb of transit Pluto, modern ruler of death, at 11 Capricorn, more closely squared transit Uranus at 15 Aries and forming a Grand Cross with death indicators asteroid Osiris (named for the ancient Egyptian god of the dead) in opposition from 14 Cancer, and Atropos in square from 11 Libra. Asteroid Alexandra (#54, her middle name) was also bound to the pattern by close conjunction with Pluto from 10 Capricorn.
The time of death was given by Melissa Rivers as 1:17 PM EDT, which puts the Moon also at 11 Capricorn, mere minutes past its monthly conjunction with Pluto. As if to underscore her daughter’s grief, transit Melissajane (#301566, closest match to “Melissa”) was there as well, at 6 Capricorn.
Transit Saturn, ancient lord of death, was exactly conjunct natal Atropos at 18 Scorpio, and just past the waning square to its natal degree of 16 Aquarius. The transit Sun at 11 Virgo was rolling over the Neptune/Jupiter/Mars stellium. Transit Thalia at 9 Gemini squared the natal stellium and the transit Sun, showing the prominent death of a comedy figure, and was exactly at transit Joan’s degree for her breakout performance on “The Tonight Show”. Transit Nemesis at 25 Cancer had crossed natal Pluto at 22 Cancer the week before, with transit Lachesis at 25 Leo, named for the Greek Fate who determines the span of life, closely conjunct natal Nemesis and squared natal Joan.
Another icon of comedy had passed, never to be replaced.