"What he was going through didn't match one to one [with what] many Parkinson's patients experience," Zak said. "So, I think that was hard for him."
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2021. It has since been updated.
When Robin Williams took his own life on August 11, 2014, people all over the world were gutted. How could someone who had built a career out of making people laugh lose his fight against depression? The actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's initially, but it wasn’t until after his death that it was reported he was misdiagnosed. He had Lewy body dementia (LBD), the second-most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease.
During an interview with host Max Lugavere on his podcast The Genius Life, William's son, Zachary Pym Williams, aka Zak, opened up about his father's misdiagnosis, and how he dealt with the trauma after the actor's death by suicide in August 2014, reports PEOPLE. The episode was released on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, on what would have been the late actor's 70th birth anniversary.
Zak, a mental health advocate, spoke about the "frustration" and discomfort his dad went through because he was misdiagnosed with Parkinson's instead of LBD. "What I saw was frustration," Zak said, of the Mrs.Doubtfire actor's ordeal. "What he was going through didn't match one to one [with what] many Parkinson's patients' experience," he continued. "So, I think that was hard for him."
The PYM (prepare your mind) founder continued, "There was a focus issue that frustrated him, there were issues associated with how he felt and also from a neurological perspective he didn't feel great," adding, "He was very uncomfortable."
Because Williams was wrongly diagnosed, the medicines he was prescribed did him more harm than good. "Those drugs are no joke," he said. "They're also really hard on the mind and the body." Since LBD is a type of brain disease that affects a person's thinking, memory, and movement control, Williams faced "challenges performing his craft," his son said on the podcast.
"I couldn't help but feel beyond empathy. I couldn't help but feel frustrated for him," Zak shared. "It can be really isolating even when you're with family and loved ones." In the two years that led to his father's death, his symptoms intensified, added Zak. "It was a… I don't want to say it was a short period. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because it was a period for him of intense searching and frustration."
During an episode of The Dr. Oz Show in November 2020, Zak said that even during Robin's own struggle, the actor didn't forget to help others who were suffering as well. He said, "The main thing for me was noticing how he went through great lengths to support himself while he could show up for others. It was clear that he prioritized his mental health throughout most of his life, at least that I experienced with him."
Losing a loved one is never easy, especially a father, and it took a toll on Zak's mental health, too. After Williams' death, Zachary found himself "hitting rock bottom" and struggling with depression and addiction just like his father.
"I found myself hitting rock bottom when I wanted to just be numb," he said and continued, "I found myself wanting to drink alcohol and just not think. That was something that was really dysregulating for me." He added, "I found myself waking up in the morning and feeling like I was having a dissociative experience, but I just didn't want to be living the life I was living. I realized something had to give."
Eventually, to help him deal with his own demons, the father-of-two began to act as an advocate for mental health. "I was just sick and tired of trying to treat myself using harmful means," Zak said. Later, he told PEOPLE that through his mental health journey, "I've learned I'm not broken. Despite experiencing traumatic events, I can recover. And I am now on a path of healing and being the person I always wanted to be."
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Kevin Winter