Hollywood stars and devastated fans have rushed to pay tribute to the actor Robin Williams, who has died in an apparent suicide at the age of 63.
He was pronounced dead at his home in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff’s office said the preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.
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 programme he said he needed after 18 months of non-stop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse following 20 years of sobriety.
The much-loved actor was known for channelling his frenetic energy into delightful comic characters such as Mrs Doubtfire, or into richly nuanced work like his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting.
Over the years, Williams described himself as an ‘honorary Jew’.
In 2005, Williams was one of the entertainers at the annual banquet for the USC Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which was founded by Steven Spielberg with the proceeds from Schindler’s List.
Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of US Jewish Journal was at the fundraiser. ‘A comedy act at a Holocaust event is never easy—that’s a subject for a whole other story—but Williams nailed it. One line left the crowd in stitches.
” ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Williams in a Yiddish accent, ‘Welcome to Temple Beth Prada. This evening’s meal will be milchidik, fleishadik, and sushidik.’ “
The celebrated performer also played several Jewish-inspired characters, most notably Tommy Wilhelm, in a cinematic adaptation of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day.
Recently, Williams posted a picture on Twitter showing him with a white yarmulke on his head, while on set of the CBS TV show The Crazy Ones. ‘Too late for a career change? Rabbi Robin?’ he tweeted.
Williams was last seen alive at home at about 10pm on Sunday. An emergency call from his house in Tiburon was placed to the Sheriff’s Department shortly before 12pm yesterday.
The actor’s wife Susan Schneider, who is Jewish, said: “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.
“As Robin 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.”
Not long ago, Williams had this memorable exchange on German TV.
German Interviewer: “Mr. Williams, why do you think there’s not so much comedy in Germany?”
Williams: “Did you ever think you killed all the funny people?”
From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV comedy Mork & Mindy through his stand-up comedy act and such films as Good Morning, Vietnam, the short, barrel-chested Williams ranted and shouted as if just sprung from solitary confinement.
Loud, fast and manic, he parodied everyone from John Wayne to Keith Richards, impersonating a Russian immigrant as easily as a pack of Nazi attack dogs.
He was a riot in drag in Mrs Doubtfire, or as a cartoon genie in Aladdin. He won his Academy Award in a rare dramatic role, as an empathetic therapist in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.
He was no less on fire in interviews. During a 1989 chat with the Associated Press, he could barely stay seated in his hotel room, or even mention the film he was supposed to promote, as he free-associated about comedy and the cosmos.
“There’s an Ice Age coming,” he said. “But the good news is there’ll be daiquiris for everyone and the Ice Capades will be everywhere. The lobster will keep for at least 100 years, that’s the good news. The Swanson dinners will last a whole millennium. The bad news is the house will basically be in Arkansas.”
As word of his death spread, tributes from inside and outside the entertainment industry poured in.
President Barack Obama said in a statement: “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.
“He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalised on our own streets.”
Like so many funnymen, Williams had dramatic ambitions. He played for tears in Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and What Dreams May Come,which led New York Times critic Stephen Holden to write that he dreaded seeing the actor’s “Humpty Dumpty grin and crinkly moist eyes”.
But other critics approved, and Williams won three Golden Globes, for Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire and The Fisher King.
“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,” Steven Spielberg said.
More recently, Williams appeared in the Night At The Museum films, playing President Theodore Roosevelt in the comedies in which Ben Stiller’s security guard has to contend with wax figures that come alive and wreak havoc after a museum closes. The third film in the series is currently in post-production.
In April, Fox 2000 said it was developing a sequel to Mrs Doubtfire and Williams was in talks to join the production.
Sadly, Williams’ personal life was often short on laughter. He had acknowledged drug and alcohol problems in the 1970s and ’80s and was among the last to see John Belushi before the Saturday Night Live star died of a drug overdose in 1982.
Williams announced in 2006 that he was drinking again but rebounded well enough to joke about it during his recent tour. “I went to rehab in wine country,” he said, “to keep my options open.” The following year, he told the AP that people were surprised he was no longer clean.
“I fell off the wagon after 20 years and people are like ‘Really?’ Well, yeah. It only kicks in when you really want to change,” he said.
Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams would remember himself as a shy child 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. Their acts were not warm and lovable. They were just being themselves.
“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 paralyse 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 Susan, Williams is survived by his three children: daughter Zelda, 25, and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 19.