Comic legend Robin Williams dies at 63

Robin Williams, the versatile actor whose madcap comic style made him one of television and film’s biggest stars, was found dead from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California on Monday. He was 63.

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, where he played the part of a a divorced father who assumes the identity of a British nanny 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 Marin County Sheriff’s coroner’s division said it suspected Williams committed suicide by asphyxia, but the cause of death is still under investigation and an autopsy will be conducted on Tuesday.

The sheriff’s office said it received an emergency call about midday local time on Monday, 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 the the streets and always had a ready smile and a wave for children on the street.

“It wasn’t like having a celebrity [as a neighbour],” said Sonja Conti. “He was just a normal, nice guy. People left him alone.”

‘One of a kind’
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.

US President Barack Obama called Williams a “one of a kind” actor who could make people laugh and cry in his array of characters.

“He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit,” Obama said in a statement.

Williams, who most recently appeared in the CBS television comedy The Crazy Ones until it was cancelled after one season in May, had entered a rehabilitation center 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.

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.

His other nominations were for the 1990 coming-of-age prep school drama Dead Poets Society and 1991’s The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting, for which won the Oscar.

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

In 2009, the actor told Reuters that his children often referenced his own struggles with alcohol when he confronted them about their own misbehavior.

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

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Miriam Makeba: 9 passports, no pass

In this poetic commentary on Dathini Mzayiya’s video portrait of Miriam Makeba, Lindokuhle Nkosi inscribes moments of death, spiritual calling, sorrow and exile born by Makeba, during her singular and passionate life

Public must develop safe death rites

Experience in Brazil, West and South Africa show how ‘people’s science’ can manage deadly illnesses

Eusebius McKaiser: How do we decide whose lives matter most?

The way Covid-19 death facts are reported (age and comorbidities) reflects how old people and those with chronic conditions are valued. Scientifically there’s an argument for this, but morally it’s troubling

How did an otherwise healthy man with a broken leg end up dead in a hospital ceiling?

The bizarre case from Durban is at least the second such case nationally in the last three years.

Kenya police ‘liable’ over baby’s election protest death

The magistrate found enough evidence that the baby died as a result of injuries inflicted by the police.

The issue of money and death is vulgar

Justice does not always serve fairness and the Momentum debacle raises the issue of good faith
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

NSFAS’s woes do not help its mandate

Nehawu wants the scheme’s administrator, Randall Carolissen, to be removed

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday