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Robin Williams, the comic genius who entertained millions over the course of a nearly 40-year career, succumbed to his inner demons last week and committed suicide at the age of 63. The comedian was a tremendous talent, who delighted audiences with his quick wit, rapid-fire delivery, and contagious energy. In the aftermath of the talented and versatile actor’s death, there are questions that remain unanswered and a wave of sensationalism that has surrounded his death, as well as provided insight into the agony and ecstasy that fueled his comic genius. At the end of the article, enjoy a video compiled by David Letterman, who shared a 38-year friendship with Williams, and recently aired the montage on his show, Late Show With David Letterman, in the aftermath of Williams’ death.
Chicago-born Williams got his start in comedy clubs and via guest roles on TV in the 1970s. The guest role that would ultimately launch his career and made him a household name came in the form of Mork from Ork on Happy Days in 1978. This role lead to the hugely successful spin-off series, Mork & Mindy, which ran for 4 seasons from 1978-1982. His big break in movies came from his titular role in the 1982 seminal film The World According to Garp opposite Glenn Close (Damages). The film was based on the John Irving novel of the same name and Williams played the lead role of T.S. Garp.
Williams’ wild comic talent involved a great deal of improvisation, following in the footsteps of his idols comedians Jonathan Winters and Richard Pryor. Williams had also proven to be an effective and deft dramatic actor, who received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting (1997) for his portrayal of Dr. Sean Maguire.
On August 11, 2014, Robin Williams succumbed to the agony and ecstasy of his comic genius when he was found dead at his home in Tiburon, California, the victim of an apparent suicide, according to police. His longtime friend and personal assistant found his body and alerted authorities. The sensationalism that followed the reports of the comedian’s death were graphic and extreme to say the least. When the Marin County Sheriff’s Department subsequently held a press conference to confirm Williams’ suicide and released the graphic details surrounding his death, the world mourned all over again for the comic genius and his loved ones. Was it really necessary to release the graphic and startling details of the comedian’s death to the world? What about Williams’ right to privacy even in death? What about the privacy of his family and loved ones left behind to deal with the aftermath?
It is well-known that the versatile actor and comedian had long suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues. He checked himself into rehab to be treated for alcoholism in 2006. He already overcame a drug and alcohol addiction in the 1980s. At the time of his death, many speculated about whether or not Williams had relapsed. However, following his death, Williams’ third and current wife, Susan Schneider, confirmed his continued sobriety and released another shocking revelation to the world–the comedian suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. His Parkinson’s diagnosis was something the comedian struggled with and was not ready to share with the world, according to his wife. What role this diagnosis played in Williams’ decision to end his own life may never be known. It was likely a contributing factor to the comedian’s ongoing battle with depression and struggles with sobriety, as well as a source of added stress for Williams, who was also experiencing financial struggles and feared for his family’s economic well-being at the time of his death.
Williams was reportedly involved in a number of projects at the time of death. These projects included a third Night at the Museum film, in which he played Rough Rider and former president Teddy Roosevelt. Some of these projects were not labors of love for the comedian, who had taken roles in movies and TV for the paycheck in recent years. He lamented to close friends and associates that he never expected to be in the position where he would need to accept roles for his family’s financial well-being. Williams was even candid about his financial struggles in recent interviews he did for his now-defunct CBS comedy The Crazy Ones with Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The comedian commented on the comfort associated with a steady paycheck and his downsized lifestyle. When the series was cancelled after only one season, Williams was reportedly devastated by the blow and blamed himself for the show’s failure. With Williams’ death, the fate of some of the projects he was involved in remain unknown.
While Robin Williams succumbed to the agony and ecstasy of his comic genius, he was always willing and thrilled to help others in need. Shortly before the comedian took his own life, Williams sent an inspiring message to a young New Zealand woman, Vivian Waller, who is battling terminal lung, bowel, and liver cancer. Upon receiving her cancer diagnosis in January 2014, Waller drafted a bucket list and one of those items was to meet Williams. When Waller, 21, became too sick to travel to the United States, a friend reached out to Williams, who recorded a short, sweet, and inspirational video message to Waller. The woman is apparently thrilled with the video message and her family has not had the heart to tell her about Williams’ fate.
Robin Williams may have succumbed to his inner demons and tragic circumstances surrounding his final months, but his comic genius lives on in his storied career of stand-up comedy, TV, and film work that spanned four decades, as well as inspired generations of fans and followers. When people remember Williams, they should remember the laughter and enthusiasm he displayed on stage, TV, and film. He lived to entertain others and it showed. His comedy stylings and energy were infectious, and he was able to touch so many lives with his spirit and work.
In the wake of Williams’ tragic passing, there is hope that others will find the strength to seek the help and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing, so they might feel less afraid and alone. While Robin Williams succumbed to the agony and ecstasy of his comic genius, others may not have to suffer the same fate. His final gift to the world could lie in his tragic fate and encourage others to seek refuge when life’s struggles seem insurmountable. While there are many questions that remain unanswered and a wave of sensationalism has surrounded his death, Williams’ loved ones, friends, and fans can take solace in all the joy and entertainment the gifted, Juilliard-trained thespian gave to the world. Here is a 10-minute video clip that recently aired on the Late Show With David Letterman in the aftermath of Williams’ death. The video was compiled by Letterman, who shared a 38-year friendship with Williams.
Opinion By Leigh Haugh