Actor Robin Williams, whose blazing comic star exploded into Hollywood in the 1970s and burned bright for more than 35 years, died Monday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.
Williams was found dead from asphyxiation at his home in the San Francisco Bay area. An emergency call from his house was placed shortly before noon Monday.
“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,” said Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider. “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.”
Williams ranted and shouted his way through his career, from his performance as the alien in the late 1970s sitcom Mork and Mindy, to films such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Disney’s Aladdin. He brought intensity and inspiration to dramatic roles too, including the unorthodox boys-school teacher in Dead Poets Society and the empathetic therapist in 1997’s Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Academy Award.
Williams had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his press representative. Just last month, he announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse following 20 years of sobriety.
Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams described himself as a shy kid who got some early laughs from his mother by mimicking his grandmother. He opened up more in high school when he joined the drama club, and he was accepted into the Juilliard Academy, where he had several classes in which he and Christopher Reeve were the only students and John Houseman was the teacher.
Encouraged by Houseman to pursue comedy, Williams identified with the wildest and angriest of performers: Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin.
“You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear,” he said in 1989. “Comedy can deal with the fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that it’s going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you’ve laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That’s what I do when I do my act.”
In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his three children: daughter Zelda, 25; and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 22.