Robin Williams, age 63, after having checked into rehab in June, was found dead by hanging himself Monday, according to police in Marin County, Calif. In a statement his publicist Mara Buxbaum said the actor had been “battling severe depression of late.”
Gifted with amazing improvisational dexterity, Williams’ skills ranged from live standup and TV comedy to precise dramatic acting. “The mystery is in the motion: What miracle of the synapses got him from point A to point Z?,” wrote David Ansen in Newsweek. “At once a satirist, a comedian and a superb actor, this one-man repertory company dashes from mask to mask, voice to voice, like a man possessed by comic demons.” Those demons pursued him off-screen, alas, as Williams admitted to bouts of drug and alcohol abuse, and was open about his fight to stay clean and sober.
“Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him…I can’t believe he is gone,” said his close friend Steven Spielberg, who directed him in 1991’s “Hook.”
Among the actor’s most memorable movie performances were “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won the best supporting actor Oscar, as well as nominated roles in “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” and “The Fisher King.” Other well-reviewed hits included his cross-dressing role as nanny “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the title role in “The World According to Garp,” Paul Mazursky’s “Moscow on the Hudson,” Chris Nolan’s “Insomnia,” “The Birdcage,” the movie remake of “La Cage aux Folles,” Penny Marshall’s medical drama “Awakenings,” and Woody Allen’s hilarious “Deconstructing Harry.” Williams was especially brilliant as the Genie in Disney animated feature “Aladdin” as well as a wise-cracking penguin in George Miller’s “Happy Feet” and its sequel.
Arguably Williams did best with independent projects such as Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting,” Bobcat Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad” and Mark Romanek’s “One Hour Photo” but he tended to stick with well-paying studio commercial fare, often at Disney. Less successful outings included movies “Popeye,” “Club Paradise,” “Bicentennial Man,” “Patch Adams,” “Flubber,” “Toys,” “Jack,” “Death to Smoochy,” “The Final Cut,” “House of D,” “The Big White,” “Everyone’s Hero,” “Man of the Year,” “License to Wed,” “August Rush” and “Jumanji.”
Born in Chicago on July 21, 1952, Williams moved with his wealthy family to San Francisco where he graduated from high school. He studied political science at Claremont Men’s College and theater at College of Marin. He attended The Julliard School in New York on scholarship, studying with John Houseman. He started out as a stand-up comic and bartender, moving on to Los Angeles to perform on open mike nights at the Improv and the Comedy Store, and guested on TV shows.
Like many movie people these days, as Hollywood movies become trickier to navigate, Williams returned to television — decades after he introduced Mork on “Happy Days,” spinning off the 70s hit series “Mork and Mindy” that made him a star–in CBS’ “The Crazy Ones,” which only lasted one season. He memorably cameoed on cable series “Louie.”
Things were rocky on the movie side. In 2009 the comedy “Old Dogs” was reviled by critics. Last year he starred in a supporting role in Arie Posin’s festival success d’estime “The Face of Love,” opposite Annette Bening and Ed Harris. Dito Montiel’s “Boulevard” did not make much of a splash at Tribeca in April. Phil Alden Robinson’s “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” came and went with a Tomatometer rating of 11% in May 2014.
Still to come are indie-financed “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” which is without a distributor, and Williams’ third “Night at the Museum” film, “Secret of the Tomb” (December 19). It’s unlikely that a planned sequel to “Mrs. Doubtfire” will go forward.
Williams won four Grammy Awards as well as various variety special Emmy Awards.
Here’s the police statement:
On August 11, 2014, at approximately 11:55 a.m, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA. The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12:00 pm. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63-year-old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, CA.
An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr. Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10:00 pm on August 10, 2014. Mr. Williams was located this morning shortly before the 9-1-1 call was placed to Marin County Communications. At this time, the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made. A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.
Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, said:
“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”