Robin Williams, Beloved Comedy Star, Dead at 63

By Haven Daley, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, died Monday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.

Robin WilliamsWilliams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation shows the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.

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“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,” said Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider. “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 had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his press representative.

From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show “Mork and Mindy,” through his standup act and such films as “Good Morning, Vietnam,” the short, barrel-chested Williams ranted and shouted as if just sprung from solitary confinement. Loud, fast, manic, he parodied everyone from John Wayne to Keith Richards, impersonating a Russian immigrant as easily as a pack of Nazi attack dogs.

He was a riot in drag in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or as a cartoon genie in “Aladdin.” He won his Academy Award in a rare, but equally intense dramatic role, as a teacher in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.”

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He was no less on fire in interviews. During a 1989 chat with The Associated Press, he could barely stay seated in his hotel room, or even mention the film he was supposed to promote, as he free-associated about comedy and the cosmos.

Robin Williams' Star on Hollywood Boulevard“There’s an Ice Age coming,” he said. “But the good news is there’ll be daiquiris for everyone and the Ice Capades will be everywhere. The lobster will keep for at least 100 years, that’s the good news. The Swanson dinners will last a whole millennium. The bad news is the house will basically be in Arkansas.”

Following Williams on stage, Billy Crystal once observed, was like trying to top the Civil War. In a 1993 interview with the AP, Williams recalled an appearance early in his career on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Bob Hope was also there.

“It was interesting,” Williams said. “He was supposed to go on before me and I was supposed to follow him, and I had to go on before him because he was late. I don’t think that made him happy. I don’t think he was angry, but I don’t think he was pleased.

“I had been on the road and I came out, you know, gassed, and I killed and had a great time. Hope comes out and Johnny leans over and says, ‘Robin Williams, isn’t he funny?’ Hope says, ‘Yeah, he’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.'”

In 1992, Carson chose Williams and Bette Midler as his final guests.

Like so many funnymen, he had serious ambitions, winning his Oscar for his portrayal of an empathetic therapist in “Good Will Hunting.” He also played for tears in “Awakenings,” ”Dead Poets Society” and “What Dreams May Come,” something that led New York Times critic Stephen Holden to once say he dreaded seeing the actor’s “Humpty Dumpty grin and crinkly moist eyes.”

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Williams also won three Golden Globes, for “Good Morning, Vietnam,” ”Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Fisher King.”

His other film credits included Robert Altman’s “Popeye” (a box office bomb), Paul Mazursky’s “Moscow on the Hudson,” Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” and Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry.” On stage, Williams joined fellow comedian Steve Martin in a 1988 Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot.”

“I dread the word ‘art,'” Williams told the AP in 1989. “That’s what we used to do every night before we’d go on with ‘Waiting for Godot.’ We’d go, ‘No art. Art dies tonight.’ We’d try to give it a life, instead of making “Godot” so serious. It’s cosmic vaudeville staged by the Marquis de Sade.”

His personal life was often short on laughter. He had acknowledged drug and alcohol problems in the 1970s and ’80s and was among the last to see John Belushi before the “Saturday Night Live” star died of a drug overdose in 1982.

Williams announced in recent years that he was again drinking but rebounded well enough to joke about it during his recent tour. “I went to rehab in wine country,” he said, “to keep my options open.”

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Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams would remember himself as a shy kid who got some early laughs from his mother – by mimicking his grandmother. He opened up more in high school when he joined the drama club and he was accepted into the Juilliard Academy, where he had several classes in which he and Christopher Reeve were the only students and John Houseman was the teacher.

Encouraged by Houseman to pursue comedy, Williams identified with the wildest and angriest of performers: Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin. Their acts were not warm and lovable. They were just being themselves.

“You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear,” he told the AP in 1989. “Comedy can deal with the fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that it’s going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you’ve laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That’s what I do when I do my act.”

He unveiled Mork, the alien from the planet Ork, in an appearance on “Happy Days,” and was granted his own series, which ran from 1978-82.

In subsequent years, Williams often returned to television – for appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” for “Friends,” for comedy specials, for “American Idol,” where in 2008 he pretended to be a “Russian idol” who belts out a tuneless, indecipherable “My Way.”

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Williams also could handle a script, when he felt like it, and also think on his feet. He ad-libbed in many of his films and was just as quick in person. During a media tour for “Awakenings,” when director Penny Marshall mistakenly described the film as being set in a “menstrual hospital,” instead of “mental hospital,” Williams quickly stepped in and joked, “It’s a period piece.”

Winner of a Grammy in 2003 for best spoken comedy album, “Robin Williams – Live 2002,” he once likened his act to the daily jogs he took across the Golden Gate Bridge. There were times he would look over the edge, one side of him pulling back in fear, the other insisting he could fly.

“You have an internal critic, an internal drive that says, ‘OK, you can do more.’ Maybe that’s what keeps you going,” Williams said. “Maybe that’s a demon. … Some people say, ‘It’s a muse.’ No, it’s not a muse! It’s a demon! DO IT YOU BASTARD!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! THE LITTLE DEMON!!”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Photos: Top: Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP Photo; Bottom: Flickr/Loren Javier


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myexper 5pts

Besides a Comedy Star, Robin Williams was a great actor, great humanitarian and great American. He will be deeply missed.

2Papa 5pts

He seemed to "have it all".  I had no idea he was so troubled.  Why? 

chineseplayground 5pts

While his family, friends, and fans are celebrating his life and career, I believe it is imperative that we not let Mr. Williams’ suffering and death pass in vain. Of all the mental illnesses, one-quarter of us who suffer from bipolar disorder end up taking our own lives, which ranks us at the top in this category for all psychiatric disorders.

Mr. Williams’ public ongoing struggles with addiction indicate a concurrent disorder, which is common among manic depressives, as we seek an escape from our debilitating symptoms. His relapses are also a fact of life among recovering addicts.

With all due respect to his family, this post is not meant to judge or second-guess Mr. Williams’ illness, actions, treatment, or his support system. In a perfect or make-believe world, our beloved actor would have reached out to Dr. Sean Maguire, his character in Good Will Hunting, whose special talents would enable him to save and heal this patient.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there is no cure for manic depression or addiction. The best that we can do is recognize how serious and deadly these diseases can be and respond appropriately. Those of us with mood disorders are often at the mercy of our symptoms. We can be irresponsible, illogical, confused, rebellious, and violent—often acting out and resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms to escape or end our suffering. Yet, deep inside there is also a terrified and helpless child screaming for help. 

We live in a culture where the emphasis on image and appearance is also compromising our judgment and well-being. Celebrities are especially susceptible i.e. vulnerable to this.

As someone who has battled suicide ideation throughout his life, I would like to make a plea to friends, family, and loved ones of individuals who are struggling with addiction, depression, or other mental illnesses. If you suspect that he or she is at risk of harming themselves or someone else, get help and have them evaluated—even against their wishes. In these situations, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry. Most states and many foreign countries allow (under welfare codes) involuntary psychiatric holds for individuals deem to be a danger to themselves or another person. This intervention or pause may very well prevent your loved one from harming or killing themselves.

sheilarn1958 5pts

Its just a shame that people do not seek help because once are "Labeled" and unable to get a job, purchase life or health insurance, among other things. Hopefully, Robin Williams death will change society's views and restrictions pertaining to people with depression, and help them to realize its not to be hidden, that this is a crazy world, you are not alone, and that its OK to get help, and YOU will not be JUDGED!!

BlueSky90 5pts

Just terribly saddened by this news.  He brought so much laughter to us all and he couldn't live with his own sadness.  Folks, please watch those you care about.  One kind word could make an enormous difference in their getting the help they need.  We ARE our brother's keeper and we need to be vigilant for the signs of depression in those we care about!  Condolences to Mr. Wiliams' family and to all who loved him...

pd7636 5pts

@BlueSky90  today you made me think. I thank you. I too battle a monster called depression. I sit here alone in my office and try to think of just ONE kind word said to me today by anybody. I am at a loss for just one miniscule example... none. Life never used to be like this. I wonder what happened.  I will forever miss Mr. Williams.