Local sheriff’s office says death is suspected suicide
Rory Carroll in Los Angeles and Ben Quinn in London
The Oscar-winning actor and stand-up comedian Robin Williams, whose range extended from manic mimicry to understated character portrayals, was found dead in his California home on Monday.
In a statement, the local sheriff’s office said that it was treating the death of the 63-year-old star as a suspected suicide.
His wife, Susan Schneider, confirmed the news in a statement released through the actor’s publicist. “This morning I lost my husband and best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” she said.
Williams was last seen alive at the house that he shared with Schneider in Tiburon, north of San Francisco, at about 10pm on Sunday night, the Marin County sheriff’s office said.
His representative, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement that he had lately been “battling severe depression” and added: “This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Williams, who was born in Chicago, brought a hyper-kinetic energy to screen roles and stand-up comedy. He rose to fame in the television series Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982, in which he played an alien who arrived on earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft, sent from the planet Ork to observe human life.
He experienced a string of film successes, with Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, Dead Poets Society in 1989, Awakenings in 1990, and the Fisher King and Hook in 1991. The nearly unbroken line of success continued with Aladdin in 1992 and Mrs Doubtfire, a 1993 comedy about a divorced father who impersonates a Scottish nanny to be closer to his children.
He won a best supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting in 1998.
A sequel to Mrs Doubtfire had been announced and it was rumoured that filming would begin this year.
In her statement, Schneider said: “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.”
The White House released a statement by Barack Obama, who said: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
Officers from the Marin county sheriff’s department responded to a 911 call received from Williams’s home at about 11.55am local time. “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 12pm,” the department said. “The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12.02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63-year-old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, California.”
The statement said the coroner suspected the death to be a “suicide due to asphyxia” and that a comprehensive investigation would be completed before a final determination was made. “A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.”
Williams had openly talked about his battles with alcohol and cocaine in the early 1980s, his years of sobriety, and relapse in 2006. He appeared to have recovered but last month he returned to rehab – the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center near Lindstrom, Minnesota.
His representative played down the news at the time, telling TMZ: “After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud.”
In a Guardian interview in 2010, he spoke about a relapse into alcoholism, his rehabilitation and his open-heart surgery.
“Oh, God, you find yourself getting emotional. It breaks through your barrier, you’ve literally cracked the armour. And you’ve got no choice, it literally breaks you open. And you feel really mortal,” he said.
Asked if he felt happier, Williams replied: “I think so. And not afraid to be unhappy. That’s OK too. And then you can be like, all is good. And that is the thing, that is the gift.”
Williams’ extraordinary acting range, as well as his activities outside of the entertainment industry, were remembered in tributes from fellow performers and film industry figures.
Steven Spielberg, who directed Hook, told Entertainment Weekly: “Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him. He was a pal and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Fellow comic Steve Martin said on Twitter: “I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul”.
The British actor and stand-up star, Eddie Izzard, tweeted: “Robin Williams has died and I am very sad. From every comedian here at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we salute him & we say goodbye.”
Mara Wilson, who acted with Williams in Mrs Doubtfire, and who has become a prolific writer and user of social media, wrote: “Very sad, very upset, very glad I did not have to hear about this though Twitter. Probably going to be taking some time off it for a while.”
The news of the death of this mercurial performer has come as a shock – but his brilliance was always tinged with sadness
Robin Williams was a superb, mercurial standup comic with a staggering talent for improv and verbal riffing, though his movie career finally evolved into an intriguing split – sugary sentimentality or an ambiguous, menacing darkness. Something similar happened with Steve Martin and Jerry Lewis. The "Mr Hyde" in Robin Williams's movie persona was well known.
So the news of his death, and the indication he has taken his own life, is deeply shocking. He clearly suffered from depression – these were symptoms hiding in plain sight – and his brilliance assumes a deeply sad aspect.
Williams could suspend his merciless, crazy irony almost entirely for glutinous family movies like Patch Adams, in which he played a doctor who treated sick kids using his irrepressible sense of humour, or the solemn fantasies like Bicentennial Man, or even his second world war drama Jakob the Liar. Or he could be chilling and sinister, as he was in One Hour Photo, a disturbing drama from 2002 in which he played the drugstore photo lab employee (in the days before digital cameras) who becomes obsessed with the pictures he develops showing a suburban family. Then there was his performance in the ice-cold, ultra-black comedy World's Greatest Dad, in 2009, in which he plays another creepy yet tragic character, a high-school teacher whose son dies in a grisly accident, and who then concocts a bogus suicide note and rides a wave of celebrity and sympathy.
Williams had a big-hearted side, a love of broad comedy and a muscular, intensely physical talent for it, which he showed off in his smash-hit drag act Mrs Doubtfire from 1993. He played a divorced guy who disguises himself as a housekeeper with a bizarre Scottish accent, employed by his unsuspecting ex-wife, so that he can keep an eye on the children. It was a role that showed off Williams's talents – the zaniness, the dressing up, the bizarrely transparent absurdity, combined with his big-hearted, faintly lachrymose vulnerability and sentimental concern for children.
For me, his best movie was Good Morning Vietnam from 1987. It was hardly the first time I had seen him – that of course was in his legendary 70s TV comedy Mork and Mindy, which introduced Britain and the world to his madcap clowning. But Barry Levinson's film was perhaps the nearest a feature film came to representing his standup style and his subversion. He was Adrian Cronauer, the anarchic, motormouth DJ on Armed Forces Radio who lets rip at the microphone, disses the pompous world of the military, and rips everything to hilarious shreds. The soldiers love him; the top brass are deeply irritated and it's clear that an awful collision is approaching, especially as Cronauer himself is beginning to let the horror of war get him down. Williams improvised a lot of his speeches himself; only he could have given that full-throttle intensity.
What a remarkable performer. This is a brutal shock.
By A. O. Scott
Some years ago, at a party at the Cannes Film Festival, I was leaning against a rail watching a fireworks display when I heard a familiar voice behind me. Or rather, at least a dozen voices, punctuating the offshore explosions with jokes, non sequiturs and off-the-wall pop-cultural, sexual and political references.
There was no need to turn around: The voices were not talking directly to me and they could not have belonged to anyone other than Robin Williams, who was extemporizing a monologue at least as pyrotechnically amazing as what was unfolding against the Mediterranean sky. I’m unable to recall the details now, but you can probably imagine the rapid-fire succession of accents and pitches — macho basso, squeaky girly, French, Spanish, African-American, human, animal and alien — entangling with curlicues of self-conscious commentary about the sheer ridiculousness of anyone trying to narrate explosions of colored gunpowder in real time.
Very few people would try to upstage fireworks, and probably only Robin Williams could have succeeded. I doubt anyone asked him for his play-by-play, an impromptu performance for a small, captive group, and I can’t say if it arose from inspiration or compulsion. Maybe there’s not really a difference. Whether or not anyone expected him to be, and maybe whether or not he entirely wanted to be, he was on.
Back then, it was clear that Mr. Williams was one of the most explosively, exhaustingly, prodigiously verbal comedians who ever lived. The only thing faster than his mouth was his mind, which was capable of breathtaking leaps of free-associative absurdity. Janet Maslin, reviewing his standup act in 1979, cataloged a tumble of riffs that ranged from an impression of Jacques Cousteau to “an evangelist at the Disco Temple of Comedy,” to Truman Capote Jr. at “the Kindergarten of the Stars” (whatever that was). “He acts out the Reader’s Digest condensed version of ‘Roots,’ ” Ms. Maslin wrote, “which lasts 15 seconds in its entirety. He improvises a Shakespearean-sounding epic about the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, playing all the parts himself, including Einstein’s ghost.” (That, or something like it, was a role he would reprise more than 20 years later in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.”)
Onstage, Mr. Williams’s speed allowed him to test audience responses and to edit and change direction on the fly. He simultaneously explained and acted out this process in “Come Inside My Mind,” a two-and-a-half-minute tour de force of manic meta — “I’m doing great! I’m improvising like crazy! No you’re not, you fool! You’re just doing pee-pee-ca-ca, no substance!” But if Mr. Williams was often self-aware, commenting on what he was doing as he was doing it, he was rarely arch or insincere. He could, as an actor, succumb to treacliness sometimes — maybe more than sometimes — but his essential persona as an entertainer combined neediness and generosity, intelligence and kindness, in ways that were charming and often unexpectedly moving as well.
In his periodic post-“Mork and Mindy” television appearances (on “The Larry Sanders Show” and more recently on “Louie”), he often played sly, sad or surprising versions of himself, the Robin Williams some of us had known and loved since childhood, which means an entertainer we sometimes took for granted or allowed ourselves to tire of. Many of his memorable big-screen performances were variations on that persona — madcap, motor-mouthed, shape-shifting jokers like the genie in “Aladdin,” the anti-authoritarian D.J. in “Good Morning Vietnam,” Parry in “The Fisher King”and even the redoubtable Mrs. Doubtfire herself.
That was a role within a role, of course, and Mr. Williams’s best serious movie characters — or maybe we should say the non-silly ones, since an element of playfulness was always there — had a similar doubleness. Watching him acting in earnest, you could not help but be aware of the exuberance, the mischief, that was being held in check, and you couldn’t help but wonder when, how or if it would burst out. That you knew what he was capable of made his feats of self-control all the more exciting. You sometimes felt that he was aware of this, and that he enjoyed the sheer improbability of appearing as the straight man, the heavy, the voice of reason.
He was very good at playing it cool or quiet or restrained as other actors in his movies — Nathan Lane in “The Birdcage,” Robert DeNiro in“Awakenings,” Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” — brought the heat, the noise or the wildness. He was an excellent and disciplined character actor, even as he was also an irrepressible, indelible character, a voice — or voices — that many of us have been hearing for as long as we can remember.