Robin Williams seemed to have it all: fame, wealth, an Oscar, an adoring and passionate fan following — but he also had a history of battling demons.
Throughout Williams' 40-year career, his personal life was marked by extreme swings from cocaine-induced hallucinations — vividly and profanely detailed in a famous 1986 one-man show — to severe depression, which his publicist said he was battling when he was found dead Monday at his California home at age 63. While many psychologists and pop culture analysts speculated that Williams had bipolar disorder, Williams is not known to have ever said so in public himself.
Success came early to Williams. He was one of only two students admitted to the advanced acting program at The Juilliard School in 1973, and the next year, he was playing the role that would make him famous: the zany alien Mork in an episode of "Happy Days," which led to his own sitcom, "Mork & Mindy."
He never seemed to have full control of his fame, however. Williams talked of having become addicted to cocaine while he was appearing on "Mork & Mindy." By 1982, he was doing coke with John Belushi, whom he visited the night Belushi died of an overdose, according to testimony before the grand jury that investigated Belushi's death.
Cocaine, Williams told People magazine in 1988, "was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down."
In his 1986 one-man show at New York's Metropolitan Opera, Williams revealed that he'd managed to get clean. But it was a crushing realization that the change wasn't a miraculous one. "I realized when I became a former alcoholic, I was the same a**hole," he said.
But he was clean and successful for two decades — the longest stretch of his career. All of his Academy Award nominations came during that period: He won the 1997 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dr. Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting," and picked up Best Actor nominations for "Good Morning, Vietnam," in 1987, for "Dead Poets Society" in 1989, and for "The Fisher King" in 1991.
"I had 20 years sober before I relapsed," Williams told fellow comedian Marc Maron in a 2010 interview.
That was in 2006, when Williams entered rehab for the first time publicly. "It's trying to fill the hole. It's fear," he told Maron. "You're kind of going, 'What am I doing in my career? ... Where do you go next?'"
"You know, I was shameful," he told The Guardian in 2008. "You do stuff that causes disgust, and that's hard to recover from. You can say, 'I forgive you' and all that stuff, but it's not the same as recovering from it."
Then, in 2009, Williams underwent open-heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to replace two valves and regulate his heartbeat. According to the clinic, major heart surgery often leaves patients with depression, which can sometimes "prevent you from leading a normal life."
Especially susceptible, the clinic says, are patients who experience high levels of stress or life transitions — which certainly describes the twice-divorced, addicted, lone-man-on-a-tightrope performer named Robin Williams.
Williams returned to rehab last month — this time, he said, not because he'd relapsed again, but because he wanted to make sure his recovery stuck.
- M. Alex Johnson
First published August 12 2014, 1:55 AM