Actor's addiction and depression 'lay in wait' for decades

Robin Williams’ addiction and depression ‘lay in wait’ for decades before he ended his life

by Mark Kennedy

AP

Addiction seemed to stalk Robin Williams, tempting him when he was weak and taunting him when he least expected it.

“It waits,” he told “Good Morning America” in 2006. “It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK. Then you realize, ‘Where am I? I didn’t realize I was in Cleveland.’ “

Williams, the comic whirlwind known for his hilarious stream-of-consciousness ramblings, was found dead Monday after the 63-year-old hanged himself in his San Francisco Bay Area home and finally silenced the demons that relentlessly targeted him.

Still, even family members were caught off guard when his body was found.

“I’ll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay,” his 25-year-old daughter, Zelda Williams, said in a poignant statement released Tuesday.

“He was always warm, even in his darkest moments,” she noted.

Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Boyd said Williams was last seen alive by his wife, Susan Schneider, who went to bed around 10 p.m. Sunday. She awoke the next morning and left the couple’s Tiburon home, thinking he was asleep somewhere else in the house.

When Williams didn’t answer a knock on the door a short time later, his personal assistant found him dead in a bedroom. A pocketknife was nearby, and Williams also had superficial cuts on his wrists.

Boyd declined to say if a suicide note had been found.

Williams starred in such films as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” playing everything from a genie to a psychiatrist. In life, he battled periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression, opening up about them to journalists with self-deprecating wit and making his struggles fuel for his comedy.

“Cocaine for me was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down,” he told People in 1988.

One of his first wake-up calls was in 1982 when fellow comedian John Belushi died of a fatal drug overdose. Williams had briefly partied with the “Saturday Night Live” star the night he died. His friend’s passing, coupled with impending fatherhood, forced him to quit cocaine and alcohol cold turkey.

“The Belushi tragedy was frightening,” Williams told People. “His death scared a whole group of show-business people. It caused a big exodus from drugs. And for me, there was the baby coming. I knew I couldn’t be a father and live that sort of life.”

Sobriety lasted 20 years. Then the taunts became overwhelming again.

The Oscar winner spent several weeks in the Canadian city of Winnipeg in the spring of 2004 filming “The Big White,” playing an Alaskan travel agent nearing bankruptcy. He told The Guardian in 2010 he felt lonely and overworked.

“I was in a small town where it’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, ‘Hey, maybe drinking will help.’ Because I felt alone and afraid,” he told the newspaper. “And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.”

He told Parade magazine in 2013 that his relapse after two decades of sobriety was frighteningly simple.

“One day I walked into a store and saw a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And then that voice — I call it the ‘lower power’ — goes: ‘Hey. Just a taste. Just one.’ I drank it, and there was that brief moment of ‘Oh, I’m OK!’ But it escalated so quickly. Within a week, I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street.”

A family intervention — “It was not an intervention so much as an ultimatum,” he told Parade — convinced him to seek alcohol abuse treatment at Oregon’s Hazelden Springbrook center in 2006.

He later told The New York Times that he hadn’t confronted the underlying issues at the root of his addiction.

“There was still, in the background, this voice, like, ‘Psst,’ ” he told the newspaper. “So when I relapsed, I went back hard. The one thing I hadn’t dealt with was, how honest do you want to live?”

Williams continued his recovery by attending weekly AA meetings. But his second marriage, to film producer Marsha Garces, ended in 2008 — largely because of his drinking, even though by then he was sober.

“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it.”

Recently, a new bout of depression prompted the actor to enter rehab. His publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said at the time that Williams made the decision because he needed to recharge after working for 18 months straight.

On Monday, the struggle finally ended.

Amid the flurry of messages on social media after Williams’ death was a simple one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and had been retweeted more than 290,000 times by Tuesday afternoon. It was an image of the big blue genie from “Aladdin,” which Williams so memorably voiced in 1992.

“Genie, you’re free,” the tweet said.

  • Richard Solomon

    Williams’ tragic death demonstrates just how powerful addiction can be. One uses/abuses drugs or alcohol in order to try to control their emotions more readily. Unfortunately, the substances actually exacerbate their reactions to life. Ie, these make them react more, not less to what is going on around them. Thus, they get trapped in a vicious, escalating cycle of more and more drugs/drinking. It is kind of like a dog chasing its tail.