Just a few months after his 60th birthday and a few weeks after his Parisian honeymoon, Robin Williams described his life as “pretty sweet.”
Less than three years later, the beloved comedic actor is dead, apparently by his own hand.
That sums up the mercurial nature of mental illness better than any eloquent words I could conjure.
Sheriff officials told The Associated Press that Williams, 63, committed suicide Monday by hanging himself with a belt at his San Francisco Bay-area home.
His widow, Susan Schneider, said in a statement Thursday that he was struggling with depression, anxiety and early-stage Parkinson’s disease. Just last month, Williams announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program, according to the Associated Press, but Schneider said his “sobriety was intact” at the time of his death.
You didn’t have to peer too deeply into Williams’ frenetic comedy to see his darker side. After all, Williams referenced his troubles with substance abuse and depression in his uproarious standup routines.
During a November 2011 Los Angeles press conference to promote the animated film “Happy Feet 2,” though, Williams was all manic energy, funny voices and gracious compliments for his co-stars and director George Miller. He and fellow animation all-star Hank Azaria (“The Simpsons”) playfully pondered what it would be like if they competed in a voice-off and happily praised Miller’s unusual decision to have the cast record their voice-overs together rather than separately.
Williams joked about the joys of sharing a vocal booth with the voluptuous Sofia Vergara, quipped that a honeymoon in Paris at his age “don’t suck, either,” and pretended to keel over dead when someone asked how he liked being 60 — four months after the milestone birthday.
“Sixty’s pretty amazing. I mean, had a midlife crisis at 40, so this is pretty sweet. Sixty’s wonderful; I’m like, ‘I’m alive.’ It’s great; once you have heart surgery, it’s Me 2.0, so it’s pretty great. And I have a cow valve, which means I can s--- standing up now,” he said, cracking up reporters and his co-stars.
Williams is survived by Schneider, whom he married in October 2011, and his three children from his previous marriages: daughter Zelda, 25, and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 22.
He also leaves behind more than 100 television and film credits, including the upcoming movies “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” “Merry Friggin’ Christmas” and “Absolutely Anything.”
Here are six of my favorite of Robin Williams films:
“Good Will Hunting” (1997). He was primarily known for his comedy, but Williams was a formidable dramatic actor, too. When he won an Academy Award for his powerful turn as a grieving but empathetic therapist opposite Matt Damon’s abused mathematical genius, Williams was on his fourth Oscar nomination. I was in college when “Good Will Hunting” came out, and I wished for a tough but twinkle-eyed guide like Williams’ Dr. Sean Maguire almost as much as I wished for an opportunity to marry Matt Damon.
“Aladdin” (1992). The animated movie won the best original song Oscar for the ballad “A Whole New World,” but everyone knows Williams’ hilarious “Friend Like Me” was the highlight of this Disney hit. While recording the voice of the Genie and the blue cutup’s many impersonations, Williams improvised with such speed and skill that the filmmakers had almost 16 hours of material. Of course, he also ad-libbed so much that the script was rejected for a best adapted screenplay Academy Award nomination. That’s a fair trade.
“Hook” (1991). “Hook” has carved out a special place in my heart because Williams is just so good as a cutthroat lawyer who has forgotten that he’s the grown-up Peter Pan. He must recapture the magic of his youth if he’s going to rescue his children from the clutches of his old nemesis, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
“Dead Poets Society” (1989). Williams earned an Oscar nod for his turn as an inspiring, nonconformist schoolteacher who encourages his students to seize the day and aspire to more than their parents’ expectations. It’s another case where the actor’s lively spirit shines through a strong dramatic performance. The final scenes of director Peter Weir’s period drama still give me goose bumps. “O Captain, My Captain,” indeed.
“Awakenings” (1990). Another mark of Williams’ acting chops: He more than holds his own opposite none other than Robert De Niro in director Penny Marshall’s fictionalized account of a researcher (Williams) who gives victims of an encephalitis epidemic (including De Niro’s Leonard Lowe) an experimental drug that revives them from their catatonic condition.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993). Robin Williams in drag pretending to be his ex-wife’s (Sally Field) middle-age housekeeper: It’s a ridiculous concept and comedy. But Williams brings true emotion to his role as a ne’er-do-well jokester who will do anything — from feather dusting to full-face makeup — to keep his bitter divorce from separating him from his three children.