Robin Williams, the beloved Oscar-winning comedian whose impact on popular culture could never be quantified, died four years ago today, on Aug. 11, 2014 at the age of 63.
The news came as a shock to everyone who loved movies, television, stand-up comedy and those who just loved to laugh.
Four years after his death by suicide, it still seems so hard to understand. This year, three more beloved celebrities — Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Margot Kidder — took their own lives. In 2017, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington took his own life on the day Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, who also died by suicide, would have turned 53. On Friday night, a man authorities described as "suicidal" took control of a plane in Seattle and crashed it into an island. If anything comes out of these tragedies, it is the light they shine on the need to help others suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
Indeed, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline director of communications Frances Gonzalez told CNN in June that trained counselors took 65 percent more phone calls during the week after Bourdain's and Spade's deaths than the week before. Liz Eddy, the spokeswoman for the Crisis Text Line, saw an increase of 116 percent.
Still, there is more to do to change the perception of mental health in the U.S. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics reported a 31 percent increase in suicides from 2003 to 2013, and federal funding for suicide research was $37 million in 2013. The CDC said suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and 45,000 people died from suicide in 2016 alone.
In the months and years since Williams' death, new details about his final days have come to light. Earlier this year, New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff published a biography on Williams titled Robin, which gave a never-before-seen look at the inner turmoil he felt.
Williams' death came as his career appeared to stall, after his CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones with Sarah Michelle Gellar flopped. In May 2014, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, although it was later revealed to be a misdiagnosis. He was really suffering from Lewy body dementia, an incurable brain disorder. A risk of suicide is one of the side effects.
"He wasn't feeling well, but he didn't let on to me all that was going on," Billy Crystal told Itzkoff of his last meetings with Williams. "As he would say to me, 'I'm a little crispy.' I didn't know what was happening, except he wasn't happy."
Marin County, California sheriff's Lt. Keith Boyd, the assistant chief deputy coroner, told SFGate.com in September 2014 that the last person to see Williams alive was his third wife, Susan Schneider.
"I was getting in bed and he came in the room a couple of times … and he said, 'Goodnight, my love,'" Schneider said in a December 2017 interview. "And then he came back again. He came out with his iPad and he looked like he had something to do. And that was like, 'I think he's getting better.' And then he said 'goodnight, goodnight.' That was the last."
For many, Williams is best remembered as the burst of pure energy he was, and every generation can remember him for his various career achievements.
He was an alien named Mork on Mork & Mindy, he was the teacher who told us to "carpe diem" in Dead Poets Society, the Genie in Aladdin and the men who never wanted to grow up in Jumanji and Hook.
In 1997, Williams won the Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting. It was a supporting part in name only though. His performance in the Gus Van Sant film remains unforgettable, and one of Williams' best works.
"For all the internet's good intentions in expressing to me their fondness for dad, it's very overwhelming to have strangers need me to know how much they cared for him right now. It's harder still to be expected to reach back. So while I've got the strength, consider this my one open armed response, before I go take my yearly me time to celebrate his and my birthdays in peace," Williams daughter, Zelda Williams, wrote on Instagram in July, on what would have been her father's birthday. "Thank you for loving him. Thank you for supporting him and his life's work. Thank you for missing him. I do too."
Zelda, 29, asked fans to give time to charitable causes, to help homeless shelters or other great organizations in her father's name.
"Mostly, try to spread some laughter and kindness around. And creatively swear a lot," she wrote. "Everytime you do, somewhere out there in our vast weird universe, he's giggling with you... or giving a particularly fat bumblebee its wings."
Williams was survived by his three children, Zelda, 29; Cody, 27; and Zak, 35, and his third wife, Susan.0comments
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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