Robin Williams, a brilliant shapeshifter who could channel his frenetic energy into delightful comic characters like “Mrs. Doubtfire” or harness it into richly nuanced work like his Oscar-winning turn in “Good Will Hunting,” died Monday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.
Williams was pronounced dead at his San Francisco Bay Area home Monday, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff’s office said the preliminary investigation shows the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.
The Marin County coroner’s office said Williams was last seen alive at home at about 10 p.m. Sunday. An emergency call from his house in Tiburon was placed to the Sheriff’s Department shortly before noon Monday.
“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.
From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show “Mork & Mindy,” through his standup 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.
“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 marginalized on our own streets,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Following Williams on stage, Billy Crystal once observed, was like trying to top the Civil War. In a 1993 interview with the AP, Williams recalled an appearance early in his career on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Bob Hope was also there.
“It was interesting,” Williams said. “He was supposed to go on before me and I was supposed to follow him, and I had to go on before him because he was late. I don’t think that made him happy. I don’t think he was angry, but I don’t think he was pleased.
“I had been on the road and I came out, you know, gassed, and I killed and had a great time. Hope comes out and Johnny leans over and says, ‘Robin Williams, isn’t he funny?’ Hope says, ‘Yeah, he’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.'”
In 1992, Carson chose Williams and Bette Midler as his final guests.
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.”
His 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.” On stage, Williams joined fellow comedian Steve Martin in a 1988 Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot.”
“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.
In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his three children: daughter Zelda, 25; and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 19.