Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams died on Monday, August 11 at the age of 63, shocking the entertainment world and his scores of adoring fans. Investigators are calling the death a suicide due to asphyxia; his publicist said Williams had been battling severe depression recently.
Williams, born in Chicago and educated at Julliard, was married three times and has three adult children. According to NBC News, Williams struggled with substance abuse off and on throughout his life and underwent open heart surgery in 2009. Representatives from the Cleveland Clinic where his surgery took place explained that major depression often results from heart surgery, particularly for those who experience high levels of stress or life transitions. More recent revelations by his widow, Susan Schneider, explained Williams was also suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, another cause of clinical depression because of its damage to the brain. Schneider confirmed that Williams’ sobriety was “intact” at the time of his death. Pop culture analysts and psychologists speculated Williams suffered from bipolar disorder or ADHD, but Williams never confirmed these.
Williams self-identified as Episcopalian, which he would jokingly refer to as “Catholic Lite” in his comedy routines. He regularly poked fun at religion on stage, leading many to believe that he was actually an atheist. The Christian Post reported that, later in his life, Williams cited his faith as help to him in his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Williams also told The Guardian that his heart surgery experience made him come face-to-face with his mortality, and his faith played a role in coping with it. Williams was a formidable philanthropist, giving generously to UNICEF, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, Amnesty International and many other charitable organizations. He toured the Middle East with the USO five times and helped raise $50 million for the homeless with Comic Relief.
Scores of celebrities took to Twitter to express their surprise and sorrow over Williams’ death. Steve Martin, fellow comic actor, said he was “stunned by the loss” and called Williams a “genuine soul.” Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel called Williams “as sweet a man as he was funny” and encouraged people who were mourning to “tell someone.” Actor Bob Saget wrote of Williams, “His heart was as big as his genius,” and talk-show host Katie Couric called interviewing Williams “taking the wildest roller coaster ride of your life.” Former talk-show giant Montel Williams predicted that Williams’ journey with depression would save other lives, adding “no matter how dark it may seem, morning ALWAYS COMES.” And Williams’ daughter, Zelda Rae Williams, posted the following in memory of her father: “You—you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You—only you—will have stars that can laugh. –Antoine De Saint-Exupery”