The world regards Robin Williams as one of the greatest comedians to have ever lived, yet it failed to realize just how dark the secret behind his comedic genius was. As Williams himself put it, “[It is] the saddest people [who] always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”
Williams was born to former model Laurie McLaurin and Ford Motor executive Robert Fitzgerald Williams on July 21, 1951. He credited his mother for having an important influence on his sense of humor since he would often use it to make her laugh and gain her attention. In addition to being a connection to his mother, humor was also a way for Williams to overcome the bullying he endured as a child. By thrusting himself into the spotlight through his school’s drama department, wrestling and soccer teams and student government, Robin was able to overcome his quiet and shy nature to become someone his peers both respected and found funny. Not surprisingly, at the time of his high school graduation in 1969, he was voted “Funniest” by his classmates. In college, he initially pursued political science and soccer before stumbling upon improvisation and realizing that his passion lay in acting. Williams received a full scholarship to the prestigious Julliard School in 1973 and was one of only twenty students accepted into the freshman class and one of only two students to be accepted into the school’s Advanced Program that year. However, Julliard’s conservative and conventional style simply did not suit Williams and upon hearing from the director of the drama division that there was nothing more Julliard could teach him, Williams left the school during his junior year.
While at school, he had started doing stand-up comedy during his free time. After leaving Julliard, he continued to do stand-up comedy shows at various clubs in Los Angeles and began to make a name for himself. During this time, Williams began to take up alcohol and drugs such as cocaine, partly to relieve the stress that accompanied performing stand-up comedy. His notable performances eventually paved the way for his entry into television and he soon began to play pivotal roles in shows like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy. Television then led the way for films such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and even roles that were written especially for him like the Genie in Aladdin. Throughout his career as an actor, he has credited his success and versatility to what he has learned from fellow peers like Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. However, his road to success definitely wasn’t completely smooth. Williams continuously battled with alcoholism and even checked himself into various rehabilitation centers over the years in order to try to combat the problem. However, in the end, it wasn’t alcohol or drugs that did him in, but his own body.
According to his wife, Williams was sober in the period before August 11, 2014 when he died by suicide. However, he was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was only after an autopsy that it was revealed that Williams was actually suffering from Lewy body dementia, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. As a result, Williams was experiencing symptoms like paranoia, insomnia, delusions, memory loss and stress in the days leading up to his death. According to Susan Schneider, his wife at the time, “Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it.” There’s no way to ever know exactly what Robin Williams was thinking or feeling when he made the decision to end his pain the way he did. Perhaps seeing his own body deteriorate and the thought of losing his sense of self was simply too much for him or perhaps he simply couldn’t go on after years of fighting against various obstacles. However, even in the darkest of times, there’s always a light you can turn to; suicide is never the only option. It may not be readily visible or easily seen, but it’s there and you can reach out to this light by seeking professional help or at least reaching out to loved ones, doing things that put a smile on your face or even just getting out in the world and moving about. For better or for worse, humans inherently lack the ability to see themselves through other people’s viewpoints. However, this ability would certainly help those who are lost in their own darkness see the light that others see within them. The world adored Robin Williams, it saw an ethereal light within him. However, this was a light that he himself could not see. If he could have seen it, perhaps he would still be amongst us, continuing to make us laugh.