Robin Williams died

August 11, 2014 • 4:46 pm

This one was really a blow: who expected that? And it wasn’t illness, either—at least of the physical type. It appears to be suicide by asphyxiation resulting from severe depression. He was only 63.

ABC News reports:

Actor Robin Williams died this morning in California, according to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office-Coroner Division and his press representative. He was 63.

“Robin Williams passed away this morning,” the actor’s rep Mara Buxbaum said in a statement tonight. “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.”

According a statement from the Marin County Coroner, they received a 911 call at 11:55 a.m., that Williams had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in Tiburon, California. “The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams.”

“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 10:00 pm on August 10, 2014.”

“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.”

The actor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and appeared in dozens of films including “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Patch Adams.”

I didn’t even know he suffered from depression, a killer in its chronic form. There’s not much to say except that he was a funny guy and sometimes a very good actor, that he didn’t deserve this, and that I wish there had been some way to help him.

Robin WIlliams

h/t: Merilee

92 thoughts on “Robin Williams died

  1. A friend told me about this a few minutes ago & I searched online to confirm. I couldn’t believe it! I loved Robin Williams! My aunt once drove him and his mom in her limo and she showed me where he lived. She did the limo gig part time for fun and she said his mom was as funny as he was.

    Poor guy. He deserved so much more.

    1. He suffered from Bipolar Disorder, a disease that many actors have (google it).

      His battle was fairly public and he was a champion for education in this area.

      Good Will Hunting and Patch Adams ironically play out like his, and many others lives.

  2. I didn’t know about the depression, But he’s been pretty candid about his occasional struggles with alcohol abuse.

    Mostly I’m just shocked by this.

  3. Depression can be treated successfully. It takes a lot of time and effort, but when it’s coupled with substance abuse it is much more difficult. So sad.

  4. Depression is terrifying. I cannot begin to imagine living being so painful that you want it to end. This caused the same unease I felt when David Foster Wallace died.

    I have never been depressed in my life. A little down in the dumps but never full blown depression. Just the thought is scary.

    1. I was once clinically depressed and medication wasn’t working. My doctor handled it badly as well. I spent all my waking time (which was a lot because my messed up brain chemistry meant I could never sleep) plotting how I could kill myself to stop the agony.

      1. I know the pain Diana. But I am glad to read it is in the past for you. I hope my wife will be able to say the same one day.

        1. I hope your wife overcomes the nastiness that is depression. I’m fortunate is I’m not chronically depressed but that it was events and stress that brought it on, meaning my brain chemistry isn’t an on going maintenance problem. At the time though, it was such a stigma that very few people knew what I was going through.

      2. Before I was clinically depressed, I could never understand suicide. I could not imagine taking my own life nor could I put myself into the shoes of anyone who did. I have no doubt that I was unjustifiably judge mental. In the depths of depression, though, it was all too easy to imagine suicide.

        Diana is right: it is agony.

        I had the lack of sleep thing too. My “record” was nine hours of sleep one week.

        It turned out that depression is widespread in my extended family but, naturally, no one ever talks about it. I’ve spent years reinterpreting the past, trying to sort out why certain family bullshit really happened.

      3. I’ve been fighting that for >10 years. It’s difficult to describe to people what it’s like: being smothered in a heavy blanket with a station-skipping radio being on at full volume in your head is a close match.

        There’s a lot of time that I just want it to stop (and there was a period where I made sure that I didn’t stand too close to rail platform edges, etc) but, I don’t know, it hadn’t gotten so bad that a couple of bottles of wine – on top of the meds, not entirely recommended – didn’t shut the noise up for a while.

        It’s so sad that Robin Williams got to the point that he did, and I feel absolutely terrible for his friends and family. Knowing that I had parents/sibling was something to hold on to, but getting to the stage where this is overshadowed… RIP

        1. I’ve never been more calm and relaxed than the moment I stopped thinking about, planning and even making half hearted attempts at suicide and really, truly knew that it was the right thing to do. This sounds pretty crazy to people who haven’t spent a lot of time fighting those demons, as they say, but the quietest time in my head was the moment that I didn’t consider ending it all because it was too painful but because it was the correct thing to do. It felt like the first thing I was going to do right in my life and that gave me comfort. Luckily, I was out at the time being the funny guy and the life of the party. By the time I got home to do the deed(I decided to do it at home and avoid any unnecessary drama), someone had recognized the sudden change in my mood and decided to follow me home and keep me company for a while. So the most comfortable and calm I’d ever been was enough of a shock that people close to me saw it as a sign of trouble. haha
          That was a lot of years ago and although I have my occasional dark days, nothing comes near that period anymore. I like to think you can sort of outgrow it.

          1. It is true that the decision to end it all actually provide quiet and comfort. Not many understand that.

  5. Mork is back in Ork. We Earthlings appreciate the time you spent with us, and the other-wordly gifts you gave us. Unan, Unan.

  6. He had bipolar disorder actually – something I’m currently in treatment for. The depression cycles are nothing to take lightly.

    1. I wondered if he was bipolar. His personality seemed to suggest manic episodes in the past and substance abuse often accompanies that.

      What a tragedy.

      I hope you are successful in managing your brain chemistry.

      1. British comedian and actor Stephen Fry also suffers from bipolar disorder and he recently made a (fortunately unsuccessful) suicide attempt. He is pretty open about it. But it’s awful and scary.

        1. A person breaks their leg and society would be shocked if they did not go get it fixed at a hospital right away.

          A person suffers from depression or other mental issues and society thinks they should just “man up” or keep it to themselves.

          This attitude must change or there will be more such unfortunate deaths. Depression is not a person’s fault any more than a physical accident. Both need to be treated.

          Grow up society and get a clue.

      2. Thank you, Diana. Yes, I’m managing with meds and therapy. My diagnosis came from a depression episode that started to move into the ballpark of suicidal. I’m relieved to have not been that far down since.

  7. Robin Williams was a brilliant comedian. His humor was not the linear, predictable model like Cosby, David Brenner, Seinfeld etc. His associations were unpredictable and creative, unexpected and suprising. His mind worked in quick brilliant associations…those associations fanning out in all directions. He would choose the association he wanted.
    He adored the humor of Jonathan Winters who did not tell jokes but did characters in a qwerky, bizzare, unexpected and creative way. But Robin Williams took his art beyond Winters and into the stratasphere of wacky creativity. The linear comics are somewhat inter-changable. The same, model and patterns.
    Williams was like the wind. We never knew where it would come from, how hard, how hot or how cold it would be.
    And though the vibrant wind of Robin Williams blows no more, a mere click of “play” will bring sunshine and warmth to us all and long after we are gone.

    1. In many respects, he reminded me of another comic genius who also suffered from bi-polar disorder: Spike Milligan. Milligan had frequent bouts of depression and had very similar talents to Williams – a gift for ad-libbing for example.

      Wonder what it is in the illness that causes such tortued geniuses?

      1. Spike Milligan wrote a poem about it in 1953, when he was committed:-


        The pain is too much

        A thousand grim winters

        grow in my head.

        In my ears

        the sound of the

        coming dead

        All seasons, all same

        all living

        all pain

        No opiate to lock still

        my senses.

        Only left, the body locked tenses.

  8. I have known several bipolar people and it is common for them to self medicate with drugs and alcohol When they are manic, their own brain chemicals are a better high than any drug and the depressive phase is incredibly painful. It is incredibly difficult to treat because the drugs level them out and they crave the highs despite the risk of the depressive phase. One thing people forget is that psychic pain is as real and debilitating as physical pain and perhaps more so Such a tragic loss

    1. Your understanding of bipolar is unique. “Psychic pain is as real and debilitating as physical and perhaps more so”. Death is the only salvation and release from pain. Mental illness is stigmatized as if the mental illness is a choice of the individual. Therefore, it is left untreated and those afflicted with mental illness, bipolar, etc., are shunned and abandoned as lepers even in this era.

      1. I find that I’m constantly explaining that what you experience in depression is real. I think many believe it is something unreal (because it can occur without an event triggering it) and you just have to fight against it. I almost think it is our illusion of the self and our inheritance of dualism that comes out of that, that causes this belief that depression is something “unreal”. It’s like telling someone with diabetes to control their insulin and just fight against the diabetes.

        1. Yes, I take several maintenance medications for physical ailments. I explain to others: Taking medicine for mental troubles is exactly the same.

          Our mind is chemistry and electricity in the brain. If chemistry helps, great! Thank the researchers who figured this out!

          I think there’s almost a stigma associated with medication for depression (or ADHD, etc.). It is, it seems to me, a hangover from dualism and religion. We’re getting better about this; but only slowly.

    2. A good friend of mine is bipolar and I agree with a lot of what you write here. Great guy, but if he was off his meds (which he tended to do when under emotional stress) and his moods were swinging you didn’t know what was going to happen.

      1. I had to tell one of my bipolar friends not to come within 100 yards of me if she wasn’t taking her lithium because of the unpredictability

  9. I hope Tv Land shows the Mork @ Mindy show soon they should.Will be fun to watch, i didn’t really like it when it was on but you could tell this guy had something different.

  10. The only person half as funny is Sarah Silverman, IMHO.

    He ad-libbed his way through Aladdin, and if there had been an Oscar for cartoon voices,he would have retired it undefeated. I use his line about the genie to illustrate the problem of chromatin organization: “Infinite Power! – (itty bitty living space)”

    He was also a great bicyclist; I remember reading a story about how he would ride up next to people in SF, chat a while, and ride off, leaving them wondering.

    A loss. We know so little about the brain.

  11. I feel sad. So many people I liked committed suicide. A lot of creative, sensitive people suffer depression, and often times, they are very lonely. I wish there are people around to help. But the fact is, when someone’s life going down, when someone suffering depression, this person tends to isolate himself/herslef, and people tend to run away from him/her…

  12. So talented, so versatile, so many great movies. I could watch Death to Smoochie again and again (despite its flaws).

      1. Maybe Robin will rise up from his ashes like a magnificent phoenix – or some other town in Arizona!

        Let’s not forget his uncredited role as King of the Moon in The Adventure of Baron Munchausen.

  13. Aladdin is worth a view. My kids like it a lot…I am sad he is gone. I wonder if suicide-depression is contagious. I hope not. I know people who struggle with it.

    1. Suicide can be contagious, it’s known as the Werther Effect. The WHO has a document that provides guidelines to responsible media coverage of suicide in order to minimize copycat suicide. It requires minimal google-fu to find.

      1. I wonder if “copycat” (why not “copydog” or copy____ [fill in the blank with any other faunal name.] Why not “copyhuman”?]) is conformist behavior run amok?

        1. I find that colloquialisms are more or less irrelevant given that since Robin Williams has killed himself and that since he is a celebrity that additional suicides are expected a la the Werther Effect.

          To complain about the “cat” in “copycat” strikes me as ignoring the seriousness of the situation. I’ve had a close friend attempt suicide and managed to be one of the lucky ones that managed to survive it without severe side effects. Often suicide attempts have severe consequences; death or other disablement. My friend was very lucky in that emergency services was immediately called.

          This casual disregard in response to human suffering and death bothers me. Who cares if it involves the word cats, people regularly kill themselves in response to news reports of celebrity suicides and because of depression. Should we really lessons this because of a colloquialism about cats?

  14. A large part of the filming of Moscow on the Hudson was filmed at the East Village block where our apartment was located. Some of it was done in our building — I was allowed to stand behind the camera guy while the mugging scene was shot.

    I remember one hot night, after making lamb stew, I brought a bowl of it out on the fire escape. Robin was sitting on a prop sofa five stories directly below. He was resting between breaks. Looking all around him, he eyes finally rested on me. His presence was palpable; I could feel his energy all the way up there! We looked at each other for a while, and then he gave me a friendly, almost apologetic wave, seemingly concerned he was invading my privacy. I waved back, and we both smiled. Then he went back to work, and I finished my stew.

    His outgoing nature is legendary, and there are many stories echoing my own. I can’t believe he is gone. We were fortunate to have him at all and as long as we did.

    1. A Soviet circus performer defects to America while on a tour there and finds that while he has certain freedoms the USSR lacked, not everything is rosy here, either.

      The part that got me is when he went to a US grocery store and asked the manager for a can of coffee. In the USSR he would have had to wait in a long line and take whatever they gave him. The manager looked at him funny and told him to go to the coffee aisle.

      There he found not one type of coffee but brand after brand on rows of shelves. Williams character became overwhelmed at all the choices and fainted.

  15. My first comment on this site could only have been encouraged by a post of this magnitude. I am so very glad, and grateful, to have found some sentiment lent to this man’s passing on a website I’ve come to think of as a sort of internet home base.

    I am devastated. Robin had a way of drawing anyone he spoke to into his jokes, as though in collusion. He was gregarious, wonder-filled, and ceaselessly humorous. I owe so much of my own appreciation of the world to the values he exhibited as a cultural presence throughout my childhood. I loved him in a way I cannot say of any other famous figure, entertainment or academic.

    How noble, too, to offer all of us such energy, such dazzle-and-wow, such brotherly love, when there were so few stores of it left inside himself. I will miss him dearly.

  16. Williams was IMO at his very best when working for indie directors, and my fave roles of his are both professors. The crazy ex-prof (now homeless) in Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King” and the wise mentor professor in “Good Will Hunting”.

    I would give a LOT to have seen RW’s stage production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” that he did with Billy Crystal (recently done by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan).

    Imdb shows that RW did three films with Crystal (and also one episode of “Friends”) but in two of them they have no scenes together (Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet”), and the one they starred into together got rotten reviews (“Father’s Day”). So I’ll have to rent something else in his honor. I may settle for something I’ve already seen.

  17. Everybody are saying he was “the funny guy” but for mi he was a unique dramatic actor.
    My favorite roles of his will always be Parry from The Fisher King, absolutely adorable Andrew form The Bicentennial Man and last but not least John Keating form Death Poets Society.
    I have always found his comic roles a bit overacted. Like he was pushing to hard to be funny all the time.
    But the dramatic ones were heartbreaking.

    When I heard he suffered form depression I wasn’t surprised. There was always some kind of sadness under all that makeup of “the funny guy”.
    I will miss him a lot.

    1. “I have always found his comic roles a bit overacted. Like he was pushing to hard to be funny all the time.
      But the dramatic ones were heartbreaking.

      “When I heard he suffered form depression I wasn’t surprised. There was always some kind of sadness under all that makeup of “the funny guy”.”

      Exactly how I felt about it, including the lack of surprise. Sorrow, but not surprise.

      1. On that second quote there, me too. Exactly. There was always a sense of tension, that things could get very dark, very quickly. This made him more compelling for me, but more difficult in a sense too. Similar to how a deep tissue massage when your muscles are very sore is a beautiful, and strong, experience of pleasure and pain combined, but you can only take so much of it.

        1. When Williams first made it big, Hollywood put him in some very forgettable films. It was clear they had no idea what to do with his unique persona.

          I was seeing the same thing happen to another comedian, John Belushi. His last few films were so pedestrian.

          Hollywood continues to treat people like commodities or race horses – push them and use them for all they got, then let them go when they are no longer raking in the cash.

          Are there no laws for such a crime?

          1. “Are there no laws for such a crime?”

            No, not in a country where it’s perfectly fine to view flesh-and-blood human beings as human “resources” and “capital.”

  18. So sad. But what’s even more sad are the predictable comments on-line saying that if Williams had found god, he wouldn’t have taken his own life. For example this comment I found on a blog:

    “This tragic outcome of Robin Williams’ life demonstrated that no matter how talented and influential one is, if they lack a sound spiritual foundation in Jesus Christ, they will perish and end up in eternal hell.”

    If you call out the people who say these things, they will just reply with smug, gleeful righteousness that they just want the best for Williams, or that they just want to save his soul, and therefore their comments are actually filled with joy and goodness. They see nothing wrong with their ideas.

    1. And some Christian friends will tell you that you don’t need medication, that if you have enough faith you can pray it away. The same is true of cancer and a cut toe, too, but in modern society, rational believers usually add prayer to medical care. It is foolish and dangerous to try to shame a depressed person into tossing their medicine.

        1. He must’ve learned his lesson when he publicly chastised Brooke Shields concerning her struggle with postpartum depression.

  19. To be honest, I never cared for his comedy, but every year, when I am in quiet reflective mood, I watch again two of my favourite movies “The Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Will Hunting”. That’s how I will remember him.

  20. I am very sad about this. A great actor, IMO. Everyone should see Good Will Hunting. (Written and produced (they pushed to get it made) by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.)

  21. He was mildly religous but according to the Telegraph’s obituary “He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite — same rituals, half the guilt”)”

  22. I read one report that says Williams was currently in a 12-step program, battling addiction. These programs concern me because they tell participants right at the outset that addiction can’t be controlled and a higher power can help. What happens when this “higher power” inevitably does precisely nothing? Further depression? Relapse? Suicide? I could see how all three might be possible. It’s ineffably sad. There needs to be more promotion for secular alternatives to these rehab programs, alternatives that are not cloaked in woo from the beginning.

  23. A tragic end indeed. I am very glad to have read the comments here as I had forgotten about some of his great but lesser known performances, like One Hour Photo. That film completely redefined Robin Williams as an actor for me.

  24. My favorite movie of his is The World According to Garp. Not only is that movie really good but he’s great in it – and he doesn’t play it funny.

  25. My personal favorite was “Dead Poets Society.”

    The Latin teacher seemed to be a kindred spirit, but cautious:

    “Show me a man who knows his limitations,
    And I’ll show you a contented man.”

    But “Keating” (based on Romantic poet Keats, I gather) spontaneously responds:

    “Ah, but ’tis in their dreams
    That men are truly free,
    ‘Twas always thus,
    And always thus shall be.”

    That hit me like a ton of bricks.

    I also recall the Latin teacher admonishing students walking up and down the stairwell en route to class (if memory correctly serves me):

    “Avast ye surging phalanx of pre-pubescence!”

  26. I am a journalist and I have published a kids newspaper for 15 years and do a radio show for kids and parents…I have had many major names in the newspaper in entertainment, sports and many other fields.

    About 15 years ago, when starting the newspaper in print (now online) I contacted Robin Williams agent as he was one of the first people I wanted one of my kid reporters to interview. Williams had childlike quality and always seemed like a big kid to me with his projected sense of infinite curiosity, wonder and goofiness which kids love.

    His agent (at that time) told me my newspaper (at the time in print) was too new, not large enough and to contact him again when I had a larger circulation (now over a million, but in those days small) I know he would have been gracious and kind to one of my kid reporters and his genius would have graced the newspaper. I always wished I had followed thru as he could make one laugh and cry as equally hard and cleanse the soul…a rare spirit

  27. I’d like to remember Robin in these lines written by Henry David Thoreau, which were quoted in RW’s movie “Dead Poets’ Society:

    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

    You will be deeply missed, Robin.

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