He was struggling with his body and mind towards the end, not sure what was going wrong. The talented actor knew "he was losing his mind", but it wasn't until after he died that his illness was diagnosed. Sadly, it was too later by then.
Robin Williams, a brilliant actor who had won all the major awards in the US and given us some truly memorable movies, found himself unable to remember lines or do stand-up in his last days. Working gave the man the most amount of joy but his faculties were failing him and stopping him from being at his best. He was only 63 when he took his own life, which shocked all those close to him.
Before he passed away, he struggled for a long long time before he got a diagnosis, albeit a wrong one. The doctors informed him that he had Parkinson's disease but later the autopsy revealed that what he had was much worse. He had diffuse Lewy body disease (LBD), a degenerative condition which affects the memory and makes physical movement difficult. It can cause dementia and hallucinations.
The man that once inspired many and still continues to do so thanks to all the great work he has done in films like Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, or Good Morning, Vietnam and others, was hardly himself.
“Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it,” his wife Susan Schneider was quoted as saying in the new biography of Williams, Robin by Dave Itzkoff, according to Vanity Fair. She described him as "a 747 airplane coming in with no landing gear" after he finished work on Night at the Museum. He had told her that she wanted a "reboot for his brain" since he was stuck in paranoia that went in loops in his mind. If it wasn't his illness, then it was a looming danger for a loved one that would plague him. Never in his wildest dreams, did he imagine that he would be afflicted with something that would take away the one tool that made him the success he was - his mind.
Once a sought-after actor, there was hardly any work coming his way anymore. He did indie movies that would pay the bills but nothing that would win him back the aplomb of yesteryears. He featured in a few morbid projects like The Angriest Man in Brooklyn or an episode of Louie, the comedy show written by and starring the comedian Louis C.K. where the duo is reminiscing about a recently deceased comedy-club manager.
The work had dried up mostly until CBS offered him the comedy show The Crazy Ones with Sarah Michelle Gellar portraying his daughter. The show began with more than 15 million views but it kept dwindling. The show began in September 2013 and was gone in less than a year. This was the first ongoing television role he would take since Mork & Mindy ended.
He had been divorced twice and was married for the third time. He wanted Susan to have a comfortable life and he lost a lot in the divorces as well. When asked why he takes up any small project when they don't even pay as much, he said, “There are bills to pay. My life has downsized, in a good way. I’m selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can’t afford it anymore.”
While he hadn't lost everything he "lost enough". "Divorce is expensive," he added.
With the new show, he was earning $165,000, which was more than he would make for an indie film. And, he appreciated it for being a steady job. "It’s a regular job. Day to day, you go to the plant, you put your punch card in, you get out. That’s a good job.” However, the steadiness didn't last long.
Critics were quite harsh with reviewing the show and it kept losing ratings. While filming for it, he was living alone in Los Angeles in a rental apartment. It was even simpler than his Tiburon home. The show started with 15.5 million ratings and over the weeks the numbers looked bleaker.
“I’m kicking myself for not visiting him during that time,” Zak, his son with Valerie Velardi, said. “Because I think that was a very lonely period for him. In retrospect, I feel like I should have been there, spending time with him. Because someone who needs support was not getting the support he needed.”
Pam Dawber, his co-star from Mork & Mindy, did a one-episode role in a last-ditch effort to revive the show. She came out of a 14-year sabbatical since leaving show business and even that failed.
“I did that show only because I wanted to see Robin,” she said. “... The couple episodes I saw, I felt so sorry for him, because he was just sweating bullets. He was sweet and wonderful and loving and sensitive. But I would come home and say to my husband, ‘Something’s wrong. He’s flat. He’s lost the spark. I don’t know what it is.’”
The show was canceled soon after the season finale.
A month after The Crazy Ones went on screen, he started experiencing physical ailments that couldn't be explained. From digestive issues to vision trouble, the symptoms kept coming back in a loop. One month it would be one, then something else in another, or all of it together. They weren't able to find out what the problem was. He was losing weight and becoming a husk of who he was.
On the sets of Night at the Museum in 2014, the only big-budget film he was working on, he was barely able to keep up.
"He was sobbing in my arms at the end of every day. It was horrible. Horrible," Cheri Minns, a member of the film's makeup team, told Itzkoff, according to The Telegraph. “I said to his people, ‘I’m a makeup artist. I don’t have the capacity to deal with what’s happening to him.'”
He was soon diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His friends, Billy Crystal and his wife Janice, his son, Zak, and all his loved ones were saddened by the changes in him. They tried to help but he wasn't willing to receive any help. His mind was stuck in negative loops and he felt intensely guilty for leaving his ex-wife Marsha Garces, who is the mother of two of his children.
VINTAGE 1989 ROBIN WILLIAMS MARSHA GARCES CELEBRITY 7×9 PHOTO PICTURE https://t.co/190YK1cXLr pic.twitter.com/Eq3W6rb5ET— Muhammad Naqiuddin Haziq (@naqiuddin_haziq) May 1, 2019
He loved his children but seeing them reminded him of letting them down by leaving her. Even though, his children tried to console him he wouldn't listen to them. “He couldn’t hear it. He could never hear it. And he wasn’t able to accept it. He was firm in his conviction that he was letting us down. And that was sad because we all loved him so much and just wanted him to be happy," said Zak.
Robin Williams and Marsha Garces Williams’ art collection to be auctioned at Sotheby’s https://t.co/1jAKXPYjkt pic.twitter.com/QY33fhLqiD— Sharp Credit (@sharpcredit1) July 21, 2018
The degenerative disease he had actually been suffering from, LBD, wasn't found out until he hung himself in his home, where his wife found him.
While his addiction to alcohol, drugs, and the related depression had been talked about widely, when he checked into rehab this time it was because of all the physical ailments. Susan thought that rehab would fix the issues. He was under supervision, and he could focus on himself there. He would be meditating, doing yoga, and, other therapies to help manage the downward spiral his mind had taken. However, his friends did not agree that this was the right course of action.
One morning, Susan saw Robin wiping at a deep cut on his head. He had mistakenly banged his head on the bathroom door. He said he miscalculated. “He was angry because by now he was so mad at himself for what his body was doing, for what his mind was doing,” Susan later explained. “He would sometimes now start standing and being in trance-like states and frozen. He had just done that with me and he was so upset. He was so upset.”
The last time his friend Mark Pitta saw him, Robin hardly reacted to anything he said. At the end of the night, he said goodbye three times.
On the night of his death, Robin offered a foot massage to Susan, but she said she was fine. “As we always did, we said to each other, ‘Good night, my love,’” Susan recalled. The next day, a Monday, she found him dead.