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Robin Williams Suffered From Parkinson’s Disease, Wife Says

| August 14, 2014
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An Instagram photo comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: 'Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.'

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

Update, 12 p.m. Thursday: Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, his wife said in a statement Thursday, and he had not relapsed into drinking alcohol.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” Susan Schneider said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that often is first noticed through trembling hands.

Update, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday: Marin County sheriff’s officials say that actor and comedian Robin Williams, found dead at his Tiburon home at midday Monday, hanged himself. Here are the relevant details by way of the San Francisco Chronicle, which reports that Williams’ body was discovered by his personal assistant:

The assistant became concerned about 11:45 a.m. Monday after Williams, 63, failed to answer knocks at his bedroom door, said Marin County sheriff’s Lt. Keith Boyd.

The assistant entered the room and found Williams “unresponsive with a belt secured around his neck, with the other end of the belt wedged between the clothes closet door and the door frame,” Boyd said.

The complete statement from the sheriff’s office is embedded below.

Update, 9:25 a.m. Tuesday: Marin County sheriff’s officials are planning an 11 a.m. press conference on the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. We don’t know yet what information they’ll release on the circumstances surrounding what they’ve described as an apparent suicide.

Meantime, an outpouring of shock and grief continues from family, friends, fellow performers and a long roster of public officials, including President Obama. In a statement issued by the White House, the president said:

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued his own statement, praising Williams’ generosity in giving to a wide range of causes. In addition to participating in benefits for organizations that included San Francisco’s Project Open Hand and Neil Young’s Bridge Foundation, Williams started his own foundation to donate money to Doctors Without Borders, the Livestrong Foundation and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, like Williams a resident of Marin County, also issued a statement Tuesday:

“I send the heartfelt condolences of my entire family to Robin Williams’ family as our entire country mourns the loss of this remarkable genius who made us smile, laugh uncontrollably or cry.

“His ability to connect with everyone was a rare gift indeed. We will always remember Robin and we must also rededicate ourselves to helping each other through the dark times.”

Among fellow performers reacting to Williams’ death was comedian Chevy Chase — who said they shared more than just their profession in common:

“Robin and I were great friends, suffering from the same little-known disease: depression. I never could have expected this ending to his life and to ours with him. God bless him and God bless us all for his LIFE! I cannot believe this. I am overwhelmed with grief. What a wonderful man/boy and what a tremendous talent in the most important art of any time — comedy! I loved him,” actor and comedian Chevy Chase said in a statement.

Original post: Marin County authorities say actor and comedian Robin Williams has died.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office reported that emergency responders found Williams in his Tiburon home after getting a call just before noon Monday that he had been found unconscious and not breathing.

The sheriff’s coroner’s division said Williams apparently took his own life, though it cautioned that its investigation is ongoing.

Both Williams’ wife and publicist confirmed his death. From the Hollywood Reporter:

Williams’ publicist Mara Buxbaum told The Hollywood Reporter: “Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

His wife, Susan Schneider, said: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Williams was in the news last month when gossip news site TMZ reported that he was at Hazelden, an addiction treatment center in Minnesota, to maintain his sobriety.

Williams’ representative told reporters at the time, “After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud.”

Williams was open about his issues with alcohol and cocaine addiction. As recounted in the Los Angeles Times recently:

Williams … previously spent time on a Hazelden campus in Oregon back in 2006. He later explained that drinking had gradually become a problem again after 20 years of sobriety.

“You’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,’ ” the “Mrs. Doubtfire” star told ABC News in October of that year. “The same voice that goes, ‘Just one.’ … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that’s not the possibility.”

Williams’ latest movie, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” is in post-production and due for release in December. Here’s how the Hollywood Reporter sums up Williams’ career in its obituary:

A dazzling comic force whose career extended from stand-up to a major acting career, Williams’ comedic talents were so quick and brilliant that he often intimidated other comedians. His improv skills were meteoric and stupefying: Williams could wing off the cuff better than any of his peers. He burst through the stand-up world into television, captivating audiences with his portrayal of the endearing extraterrestrial Mork in the ’70s series Mork and Mindy. He first limned the Mork role as a guest star on Happy Days.

He fractured movies audiences with his comedic and endearing performance in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). He delighted audiences in the box-office hit The Birdcage (1996), playing a gay club owner who tries to convince his conservative, future in-laws of his heterosexual mainstream values. He tapped into a fey side and feminine side, as well: He delighted with his slapstick values as a hausfrau in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

His rapid-fire delivery bespoke a warp-speed, associative intelligence.

“The mystery is in the motion: What miracle of the synapses got him from point A to point Z? At once a satirist, a comedian and a superb actor, this one-man repertory company dashes from mask to mask, voice to voice, like a man possessed by comic demons,” David Ansen wrote in Newsweek in 1986.

Williams returned to network television last year in a CBS sitcom called The Crazy Ones. It was canceled after a single season. He said in an interview with Parade magazine last year that he was motivated to do the series in part because of financial challenges:

“The idea of having a steady job is appealing. I have two [other] choices: go on the road doing stand-up, or do small, independent movies working almost for scale [minimum union pay]. The movies are good, but a lot of times they don’t even have distribution. There are bills to pay. My life has downsized, in a good way. I’m selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can’t afford it anymore.”

Asked whether he “lost all his money in his two divorces, Williams said: “Well, not all. Lost enough. Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money,’ but they changed it to ‘alimony.’ It’s ripping your heart out through your wallet. Are things good with my exes? Yes. But do I need that lifestyle? No.”

Here’s the complete statement on Williams’ death released Monday from the Marin Sheriff’s Office:

On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 am, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA. The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12:00 pm. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63 year old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, CA.

An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr. Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2014.

Mr. Williams was located this morning shortly before the 9-1-1 call was placed to Marin County Communications. At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made. A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • http://charabui.com Chara Bui

    I loved watching his roles in movies when I was a child. I never knew he suffered from depression. Hearing this news brings an awareness of this topic back into my life because I’m sure there are many people I love who suffer from it without my knowing. I do hope that people who hear this become more sensitive to this issue which afflicts many.

  • Parisa

    I haven’t seen much information about his life before Juilliard. Does anyone know what his childhood was like? His family life?
    RIP, oh captain!

  • Dick

    Oh my Gosh. It’s a good thing he didn’t have a gun in the house. There might have been some gun violence!

  • Tara O.

    God Bless you Robin Williams. You gave us pieces of our soul and true heart and genuine honesty. I wish there was something we could have done for you. If we only knew the secrets of your soul. I pray for your heaven, whatever that may be- like in your movie, “What Dreams May Come.” I pray for only happiness and laughter that you always gave to us. Whatever made you happiest in this life, the simple moments of pleasure or the roaring laughter from hundreds/ thousands of people, I hope that is what you find, and far beyond what anyone could imagine. You have such a beautiful soul and spirit and I am just so very sorry you were hurting and you felt so alone. Thank you for all the moments we have had, the laughter and the tears we have been able to share through your beautiful expression and your life, I will never be the same, and will treasure you always.