Robin Williams died by suicide, coroner confirms

Tributes paid to ‘lightning storm of comic genius’ who could make people laugh and cry

Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead on Monday from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California. He was 63. The sheriff's coroner's division said it suspects the death was a suicide due to asphyxia. Video: Reuters


Oscar-winning actor and renowned comedian Robin Williams died by asphyxia in his California home, a coroner said today, based on preliminary findings.

Williams (63), was found dead by his personal assistant at midday yesterday when he failed to respond to knocks on his bedroom door, Marin County’s assistant chief deputy coroner Keith Boyd told a news conference.

Williams had been seeking treatment for depression, Mr Boyd said. He would not discuss if had left a suicide note, or whether any drugs or alcohol were involved. He said the full toxicology report would take several more weeks.

Robin Williams' daughter tweets

Tributes have been paid to the versatile actor today, whose madcap comic style made him one of television and film’s biggest stars.

US president Barack Obama, in a statement making reference to the actor’s many roles said: “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. ... The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”

Director Steven Spielberg said Williams was “a lightning storm of comic genius”.

The comedian’s appeal stretched across generations and genres, from family fare as the voice of Disney’s blue Genie in Aladdin to his portrayal of a fatherly therapist in the 1997 drama Good Will Hunting, for which he earned his sole Oscar.

But many remembered the master of impressions on Monday for his tender portrayal in Mrs Doubtfire, when he played the part of a British nanny whose identity he assumed as a divorced father to be with his children.

Williams had been recently suffering from severe depression, his publicist Mara Buxbaum said in a statement, and the actor had repeatedly talked about his past struggles with alcohol.

“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,” Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement.

The sheriff’s office said it received an emergency call about noon local time yesterday, saying Williams was unconscious and not breathing at his home near Tiburon, north of San Francisco.

Outside the family home in a neighbourhood of low-slung houses with water views, people left flowers and talked about the man who rode his bike around and had a smile and a wave for children on the street.

“It wasn’t like having a celebrity,” said Sonja Conti, who said the actor would often ask about her dog and nicknamed him Dude. “He was just a normal, nice guy. People left him alone.”

Laughter sustained him

Social media was alight with appreciation for Williams, who introduced his boyish exuberance and outlandish vaudeville-esque style to audiences as a quirky extraterrestrial in the late 1970s TV comedy Mork & Mindy.

Williams, who was most recently in the CBS television comedy The Crazy Ones until it was cancelled after one season in May, had entered a rehabilitation centre this summer to help him maintain sobriety.

His representatives at the time said Williams was not using drugs or alcohol but was there to “fine-tune” his sobriety after a demanding work schedule.

The death of Williams shook Hollywood, and colleagues mourned the loss of what many called a big-hearted man and one of the most inventive comedians of his time.

“Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him,” said Steven Spielberg, who directed Williams as Peter Pan in the 1991 film, Hook.

His daughter Zelda Williams, who recently celebrated her 25th birthday, posted an excerpt from French poet and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s El Principito on Twitter, which read: “You — you alone will have the stars as no one else has them... In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night ... You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.” She added: “I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up.”

In his final posting on Twitter on July 31st, Williams had wished his daughter Zelda a happy 25th birthday.

Humble Hero

Williams, who was born in Chicago in 1951 and grew up in suburban Detroit earned four Academy Award nominations, the first for his portrayal of US Army radio host Adrian Cronauer during the Vietnam War in Good Morning, Vietnam.

He earned nominations for the 1990 coming-of-age prep school drama Dead Poets Society and 1991’s The Fisher King.

Williams married three times, most recently in 2011 to Schneider. He has three children.

In a 2009, the actor told Reuters that his children often referenced his own struggles with alcohol when he would confront them about their own misbehaviour.

“They went, ‘And you had a three-year drunken relapse.’ Ah, thank you for bringing that back, my little happy creatures,” Williams quipped.

His death also deeply affected his local artists’ community, far from the hype of Hollywood.

“He embodied what it meant to be humble,” said Lucy Mercer, executive artistic director at Throckmorton Theatre, a small venue near Williams’ home, where the actor was known to try out new material.

“He doused us in his love and positive glow and never asked for anything in return.”

Williams will appear in upcoming film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, playing the statue of Teddy Roosevelt who comes to life at night, and holiday comedy Merry Friggin’ Christmas. He was also attached to a sequel to 1993 hit Mrs Doubtfire.


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