As details of Robin Williams’ death continue to emerge, we learn more about the actor’s life. His wife, Susan Schneider, has revealed that he was struggling with a recent diagnosis of early Parkinson’s disease.
“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,” she said in a public statement.
Nearly 25 years ago, Williams costarred, with Robert De Niro, in a widely acclaimed movie about a drug used to treat Parkinson’s.
In the 1990 film Awakenings, based on neurologist Oliver Sacks’ 1973 memoir of the same title, Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer (a character based on Sacks), who uses a drug called L-dopa on patients with Parkinsonian symptoms so severe that they seemed to be frozen. Sacks first saw success with the drug – widely considered “the gold standard for treating Parkinson’s disease” – on these encephalitis lethargica cases.
De Niro plays a patient, Leonard Lowe, who is “awakened” after Williams (Sacks) uses L-dopa on him and gains the inspiration to live a full life.
Soon after Awakenings was released, Robert Ebert, the late movie critic, posed some questions that Williams might have been trying to answer himself in his final days: “Who are we, anyway? How much of the self we treasure so much is simply a matter of good luck, of being spared in a minefield of neurological chance? If one has no hope, which is better: To remain hopeless, or to be given hope and then lose it again?”
Michael J. Fox, who after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, tweeted his surprise in hearing of Williams’ diagnosis: “Stunned to learn Robin had PD. Pretty sure his support for our Fdn predated his diagnosis. A true friend; I wish him peace.”
The foundation’s Fox Feed blog posted yesterday about the link between Parkinson’s and depression.
“Depression is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, separate from the emotional response that comes with a diagnosis,” the blog said. “As many as 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s show clinically significant symptoms of depression at some point in their disease course.”
Williams, it turns out, was a devoted supporter of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. He regularly performed at the foundation’s annual benefit, A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Cure Parkinson’s Gala, which raises nearly $5 million each year for Parkinson’s research.
Photo: Reed Saxon/AP Photo
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