SAN FRANCISCO — He was the funniest guy in the room, something that made it all the harder for friends and fans to accept that beneath that reservoir of frenetic energy and seemingly endless good humor resided demons so dark they could push Robin Williams to suicide.
It was no secret that the Oscar-winning actor had suffered for years from periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression — he made reference to it himself in his comedy routines. But word that he had killed himself Monday at his San Francisco Bay Area home left both friends in the Hollywood community and neighbors in the quiet neighborhood of Tiburon that he called home equally stunned and grief-stricken.
"It was so sudden and he was such a great guy and it's such a loss to the whole community," said Daniel Jennings who lived across the street from Williams in the quiet neighborhood where the actor was often seen riding his bike and stopping to talk to neighbors. One thing he never did, residents said, was act like a celebrity.
"He was really nice to all the neighbors," Daniels said. "Really appreciated his kindness."
He was last seen alive at home about 10 p.m. Sunday, according to the Marin County coroner's office. Shortly before noon, the Sheriff's Department received an emergency call from the home, where the star of "Good Will Hunting," ''Mrs. Doubtfire," ''Good Morning, Vietnam" and dozens of other films was pronounced dead.
Sheriff's officials said a preliminary investigation determined the cause of death was suicide due to asphyxia. Williams was 63.
"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," said Williams' wife, Susan Schneider. "On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he 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."
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 program he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse following 20 years of sobriety.
Williams joked about that fall off the wagon during a comedy tour, saying, "I went to rehab in wine country to keep my options open."
Likewise, when word spread about his struggles with drugs in the early 1980s, Williams responded with a joke that for a time became a catchphrase for his generation's recreational drug use: "Cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money."
His struggles never seemed to affect his talent.
From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show "Mork & Mindy," through his standup act and numerous hit films, 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 could do drama, too, winning his Academy Award as an empathetic therapist in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting."
He won Golden Globes for "Good Morning, Vietnam," ''Mrs. Doubtfire" and "The Fisher King."
Other film credits included Robert Altman's "Popeye" (a box office bomb), Paul Mazursky's "Moscow on the Hudson," Steven Spielberg's "Hook" and Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry."
"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," Spielberg said.
More recently, he appeared in the "Night at the Museum" movies, 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 in post-production, according to the Internet Movie Database.
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