Robin Williams: A Look Inside His Final Year Of Life
Few people occupy the same space in comedy history as the late great Robin Williams. The comedian and actor was an absolute legend, with the capacity to reduce pretty much everyone to a pile of utter laughter and even happy tears. Williams began his storied career in standup comedy, as noted by PBS, before transitioning seamlessly into a television career in the late ’70s on the iconic sitcom “Mork & Mindy.” Following his time on the series, Williams moved on to films, bringing his side-splitting, improvisational antics to movies like “Good Morning Vietnam,” which further cemented Williams’ status as a comedy genius.
Williams went on to star in a prolific number of devastatingly hilarious films, including “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Birdcage,” and “Death to Smoochy,” to name just a few. However, he could also play serious roles that captivated viewers, as he did in “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Will Hunting” (for which Williams snagged an Academy Award), “One Hour Photo,” and “World’s Greatest Dad.” There truly was nothing that Williams couldn’t accomplish on screen.
Sadly, the world shockingly lost Williams to suicide on August 11, 2014, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter, leaving us all wondering why? To provide some answers, here’s a look into the final year of Robin Williams’ life.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Robin Williams felt like his life received a "giant reboot"
In the fall of 2013, Robin Williams appeared to have a brand-new lease on life. The reason? He underwent heart surgery four years prior, which he discussed in a September 2013 interview with CBS News. “The cow valve is still working,” Williams quipped about his heart. “I can crap standing up,” he added, before taking a drink from his coffee cup. “Morning, everybody.” Talk about Williams being in his usual, irreverent form!
All jokes aside, Williams opened up about how the surgery made him feel like everything was brand new all over again. “You get a big second chance,” he continued. “It’s a giant reboot. Your whole system reboots and you appreciate everyone and everything. Every day above ground as they say.” That had to feel pretty amazing.
When it comes to the particulars of Williams’ surgery, he had his aortic valve replaced, his irregular heartbeat mended, and his mitral valve repaired, according to WebMD. The procedure took three-and-a-half hours at the Cleveland Clinic.
Robin Williams struggled to stay sober
One thing that Robin Williams was open about throughout his life was his issue with alcohol and drug addiction — Williams’ son, Zak Williams, has even spoken out about his late father’s struggle with addiction. The actor first got sober back in the ’80s, according to ABC News, and stayed that way for two decades. However, in 2006, Williams relapsed and began drinking again, before checking into rehab for two months. “It’s the same voice thought that … you’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,'” he explained at the time.
While Williams was able to maintain his sobriety following the relapse, it appears that he may have continued struggling to hold onto it, as The Hollywood Reporter noted. That’s because in the summer of 2014, he checked himself into a “renewal facility” in order to make sure that he didn’t fall pray to substances once again. “He has been working hard and now has a break in his schedule, so wants to come back and be the best that he can be,” a representative shared at the time. “This is his version of a retreat.”
Robin Williams struggled with his mental health
Throughout the course of his life, Robin Williams both spoke up and attracted speculation about the state of his mental health — a topic which the actor’s son, Zak Williams, has spoken out about since his father’s death. It was known that the actor had depression, per NBC News, while many suspected bipolar disorder as well. Williams also suffered from panic attacks and had one in April of 2014, as The Mercury News noted. Whatever the case may be, in the year prior to his death, actor and friend Billy Crystal noticed that Williams seemed off. “He wasn’t feeling well but he didn’t let on to me all that was going on,” Crystal revealed in an excerpt from the biography “Robin” by David Itzkoff (via Entertainment Tonight). “As he would say to me, ‘I’m a little crispy.’ I didn’t know what was happening, except he wasn’t happy.”
During that encounter, Crystal also was shocked at Williams’ appearance. “I hadn’t seen him in about four or five months at the time, and when he got out of the car I was a little taken aback by how he looked,” he continued. “He was thinner and he seemed a little frail.”
Robin Williams was worried about his career
Few people can say that they’ve had a career that compares to that of Robin Williams. After all, the Oscar winner starred in tons of successful films and television shows and showcased both his comedic genius and dramatic capabilities. However, toward the end of his life, it appears that Williams’ career was at a bit of a low point. “Robin was very depressed. His TV series got cancelled, his last film ‘The Angriest Man in Brooklyn’ hardly opened,” a source told Fox News in 2014. “He was in a funk.”
The television show the source referenced was “The Crazy Ones,” in which Williams starred alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar. “That [show] gave him the discipline to show up, to stay strong and keep working,” another insider explained. Given this information, it’s not difficult to understand why Williams was reportedly concerned about his career during the last year of his life.
In addition to his mental health, Robin Williams faced serious physical health issues
As is now well-known, Robin Williams was suffering physically in the year before his death. As his wife Susan Schneider Williams detailed in a piece called “The Terrorist Inside My Husband’s Brain” for the journal Neurology, Williams was dealing with numerous ailments. “He had been struggling with symptoms that seemed unrelated: constipation, urinary difficulty, heartburn, sleeplessness and insomnia, and a poor sense of smell — and lots of stress,” she wrote. “He also had a slight tremor in his left hand that would come and go.”
Things would go on to get much worse for Williams, who was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But it was only after his death that Schneider Williams learned that her husband had a severe case of Lewy body disease. “All [four] of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen,” she continued. “He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.”
Lewy body disease is also known to cause paranoia, anxiety, memory issues, and more, which explained the state of Williams’ mental health as well. “You could say he had chemical warfare in his brain,” Schneider Williams added.
Robin Williams dealt with recent upheaval in his personal life
In addition to all that Robin Williams was contending with when it came to his health and career, the veteran actor was also dealing with significant upheaval in his personal life. For one, in 2008, he and his wife of 19 years, Marsha Garces Williams, initiated their divorce in San Francisco, as noted by SF Gate. And while that was six years before he died, Vanity Fair (citing an excerpt from the biography “Robin” by David Itzkoff) asserts that Williams likely still felt guilty about the marriage ending.
Additionally, although Williams remarried in 2011 (via Us Weekly), his new wife, Susan Schneider Williams, was reportedly more independent than Williams’ previous wife, who took a more active role in his personal and professional life (via “Robin”). To top it all off, Williams was living in a modest apartment by himself in Los Angeles while filming “The Crazy Ones,” which makes for a recipe for loneliness.
Were finances an issue for Robin Williams?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Robin Williams was worth quite a lot of money when he was alive — $50 million to be exact. However, in 2013, Williams explained that he wasn’t as high on the hog as people might think. “There are bills to pay,” he declared in an interview with Parade. “My life has downsized, in a good way. I’m selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can’t afford it anymore.” Williams added that he returned to television for the pay, as it’s more lucrative than films.
But, as we know, Williams’ television return didn’t go as well as he had hoped. Additionally, his 2008 split from Marsha Garces Williams certainly had an impact on his finances. “Divorce is expensive,” he continued. “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.”
To that end, financial worries can’t be completely ruled out during the last year of Williams’ life.
Despite his difficulties, Robin Williams tried his best to manage his symptoms
Robin Williams had a lot of health symptoms to manage in the last year of his life. But, according to Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider Williams, he did his best to manage them, as she shared in her essay “The Terrorist Inside My Husband’s Brain” in the journal Neurology. “Robin continued doing all the right things — therapy, physical therapy, bike riding, and working out with his trainer,” she wrote. “He used all the skills he picked up and had fine-tuned from the Dan Anderson retreat in Minnesota, like deeper 12-step work, meditation, and yoga.”
Williams didn’t stop there, either, as he went to countless doctors for testing, as well as experts in other fields. “We went to see a specialist at Stanford University who taught him self-hypnosis techniques to quell the irrational fears and anxiety,” she continued. “Nothing seemed to alleviate his symptoms for long.” We take comfort in the fact that Williams seemingly did everything he could to survive.
Robin Williams' friends were worried about him
It should surprise no one that Robin Williams had a ton of friends, both celebrities and regular folks alike. To that end, it’s also not shocking in the least that Williams’ friends were worried about him during the last year of his life. For one, “Monty Python” alum Eric Idle wanted Williams to join the troupe for a reunion show, but he just couldn’t make it happen. “All the time I was getting emails from him, and he was going downhill,” Idle revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “Because he was suffering from severe depression.”
Additionally, Williams opened up about his Parkinson’s diagnosis to his buddy, Billy Crystal, who offered to set him up at a good clinic for the disease. “I never heard him afraid like that before,” he told Entertainment Tonight. “This was the boldest comedian I ever met — the boldest artist I ever met. But this was just a scared man.”
Makeup artist Cheri Minns was also scared for Williams, as he turned to her on the set of “Night of the Museum: Secret of The Tomb” when he couldn’t remember his lines. “He was sobbing in my arms at the end of every day. It was horrible. Horrible,” she confessed in “Robin” by David Itzkoff (via People). “I said to his people, ‘I’m a makeup artist. I don’t have the capacity to deal with what’s happening to him.'”
Robin Williams reached out to his fans
In September of 2013, Robin Williams did a Reddit AMA, ostensibly to promote “The Crazy Ones.” However, during the conversation, there were quite a few times that Williams said something especially poignant or personally revealing. For example, he had a beautiful answer when asked about what keeps things wondrous for him. “My children give me a great sense of wonder,” he gushed. “Just to see them develop into these extraordinary human beings.”
Additionally, when a fellow person in recovery asked Williams what he learned from his issues with alcohol and drug addiction, he had a touching answer. “They definitely shaped how I am now,” he continued. “They really made me deeply appreciate human contact. And the value of friends and family, how precious that is.” That really is beautiful.
For fans of the deeply emotional film “What Dreams May Come,” Williams also shared what he learned from working on that set. “That every moment in life is precious? That the gifts of your relationships with others, don’t miss it,” he added.
The last year of Robin Williams' life had some bright spots
Clearly, Robin Williams was going through a lot in every aspect of his being — work, personal, health-wise, you name it — during the last year of his life. And these struggles presented significant challenges in his path.
To that end, you may be tempted to think that everything was patently awful for the comedian in his final year. But, as Susan Schneider Williams explained in her essay “The Terrorist Inside My Husband’s Brain” in the journal Neurology, not everything was bleak. “Throughout all of this, Robin was clean and sober,” she wrote. “And somehow, we sprinkled those summer months with happiness, joy, and the simple things we loved: meals and birthday celebrations with family and friends, meditating together, massages, and movies, but mostly just holding each other’s hand.”
So, even in his darkest hour, Williams had love and solace in his life — and that brings us a modicum of comfort.
Toward the very end, Robin Williams was greatly suffering
In the months before Robin Williams’ death, his health really started deteriorating in a variety of ways — and that began to take its toll on both him and his wife, Susan Schneider Williams. “It felt like he was drowning in his symptoms, and I was drowning along with him,” she penned in her essay “The Terrorist Inside My Husband’s Brain” for the journal Neurology. “I experienced my brilliant husband being lucid with clear reasoning [one] minute and then, [five] minutes later, blank, lost in confusion.” That sounds so awful, we just can’t imagine.
Williams was cognizant of his decline, which understandably bothered him significantly. “At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it,” Schneider Williams continued. “He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth.” Williams was losing his ability to reason as well, which only made things more difficult.
These were Robin Williams' last words
Although Robin Williams was embarking on some promising avenues of treatment, in the end, his illness (which, we know now, was Lewy body disease) proved to be too much for the veteran actor. Sadly, Williams committed suicide on August 11, 2014, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
More than a year after Williams’ death, Susan Schneider Williams opened up about the last words he said to her. “I was getting in bed and he came in the room a couple of times … and he said, ‘Goodnight, my love,'” she revealed in an interview with Good Morning America. “And then he came back again. He came out with his iPad, and he looked like he had something to do.”
For a moment, Schneider Williams had a glimmer of hope that her husband’s condition may be improving, thinking to herself that “‘he’s getting better,'” she continued. “And then he said ‘goodnight, goodnight.’ That was the last.”
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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