Born: July 21, 1951
Robin Williams, Oscar-Winning Comedian, Dies at 63 in Suspected Suicide
Robin Williams, the comedian who evolved into the surprisingly nuanced, Academy Award-winning actor,
imbuing his performances with wild inventiveness and a kind of manic
energy, died on Monday at his home in Tiburon, Calif., north of San
Francisco. He was 63.
Marin County sheriff’s office said in a statement that it “suspects the
death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” An investigation was underway.
statement said that the office received a 911 call at 11:55 a.m.
Pacific time, saying that a man had been found “unconscious and not
breathing inside his residence.” Emergency personnel sent to the scene
identified him as Mr. Williams and pronounced him dead at 12:02 p.m.
Mr. Williams’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement that Mr. Williams “has been battling severe depression.”
His wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement, “This morning, I lost my
husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most
beloved artists and beautiful human beings.” She added: “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.”
privileged son of a Detroit auto executive who grew up chubby and
lonesome, playing by himself with 2,000 toy soldiers in an empty room of
a suburban mansion, Mr. Williams, as a boy, hardly fit the stereotype
of someone who would grow to become a brainy comedian, or a goofy one,
but he was both. Onstage he was known for ricochet riffs on politics, social issues and cultural matters both high and low; tales of drug and alcohol abuse;
lewd commentaries on relations between the sexes; and lightning-like
improvisations on anything an audience member might toss at him. His
gigs were always rife with frenetic, spot-on impersonations that
included Hollywood stars, presidents, princes, prime ministers, popes
and anonymous citizens of the world. His irreverence was legendary and uncurtailable.
Cam, great to see you,” he once called out from a London stage at
Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
“Yo yo, wussup Wales, House of Windsor, keepin’ it real!”
And yet he never seemed to offend.
from the moment that he first uttered the greeting “Nanoo, nanoo” as
Mork from Ork, an alien who befriends a wholesome young Colorado woman
(Pam Dawber), on the sitcom “Mork and Mindy,” Mr. Williams was a comedy
celebrity. “Mork and Mindy” made its debut
on ABC in September 1978, and within two weeks had reached No. 7 in the
Nielsen ratings. By the spring of 1979, 60 million viewers were tuning
in to “Mork and Mindy” each week to watch Mr. Williams drink water
through his finger, stand on his head when told to sit down, speak
gibberish words like “shazbot” and “nimnul” that came to have meaning
when he used them, and misinterpret, in startlingly literal fashion, the
ordinary idioms of modern life.
He went on to earn Academy Award nominations for his roles in films like “Good Morning, Vietnam,” in which he played a loquacious radio D.J.; “Dead Poets Society,” playing a mentor to students in need of inspiration; and “The Fisher King,” as a homeless man whose life has been struck by tragedy. He won an Oscar in 1998 for “Good Will Hunting,” playing a therapist who works with a troubled prodigy played by Matt Damon.
In a statement,
President Obama said of Mr. Williams, “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.”
McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago on July 21, 1951, and was raised
in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Marin County. He studied acting at the
is survived by a son, Zak, from his marriage to Valerie Velardi, and a
daughter, Zelda, and a son, Cody, from his marriage to Marsha Garces.
with roles in the 1977 sex farce “Can I Do It ‘Til I Need Glasses?” and
“The Richard Pryor Show,” a variety series hosted by one of his comedy
mentors, Mr. Williams rapidly ascended the entertainment industry’s
Soon after “Mork and Mindy” made him a star, Mr. Williams graduated into movie roles that included the title characters in “Popeye,” Robert Altman’s 1980 live-action musical about that spinach-gulping cartoon sailor, and “The World According to Garp,” the director George Roy Hill’s 1982 adaptation of the John Irving novel.
He also continued to appear in raucous stand-up comedy specials like “Robin Williams: An Evening at the Met,”
which showcased his garrulous performance style and his indefatigable
ability to free-associate without the apparent benefit of prepared
material. Alongside his friends and fellow actors Billy Crystal and
Whoopi Goldberg, Mr. Williams appeared in an annual series of HBO
telethons for Comic Relief, a charity organization that helps homeless
people and others in need.
Williams’s acting career reached a new height in 1987 with his
performance in Barry Levinson’s film “Good Morning, Vietnam,” in which
he played Adrian Cronauer, a nonconformist Armed Forces Radio host
working in Saigon in the 1960s. It earned Mr. Williams his first Oscar
nomination. He earned another, two years later, for “Dead Poets
Society,” directed by Peter Weir and released in 1989, in which he
played an unconventional English teacher at a 1950s boarding school who
inspires his students to tear up their textbooks and seize the day. (Or,
as Mr. Williams’s character famously put it in the original Latin,
dozens of film roles that followed, Mr. Williams could be warm and
zany, whether providing the voice of an irrepressible magic genie in “Aladdin,” the 1992 animated Walt Disney feature, or playing a man who cross-dresses as a British housekeeper in “Mrs. Doubtfire,”
a 1993 family comedy, or a doctor struggling to treat patients with an
unknown neurological malady in “Awakenings,” the 1990 Penny Marshall
drama adapted from the Oliver Sacks memoir.
Some of Mr. Williams’s performances were criticized for a mawkish sentimentality, like “Patch Adams,”
a 1998 film that once again cast him as a good-hearted doctor, and
“Bicentennial Man,” a 1999 science-fiction feature in which he played an
Mr. Williams continued to keep audiences guessing. In addition to his
Oscar-winning role in “Good Will Hunting,” which saw him play a gently
humorous therapist, his résumé included roles as a villainous crime
writer in “Insomnia,” Christopher Nolan’s 2002 thriller; Teddy Roosevelt
in the “Night at the Museum” movies; and Dwight D. Eisenhower in the
2013 drama “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
Mr. Williams made his acting debut on Broadway in 2011 in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,”
a play written by Rajiv Joseph and set amid the American invasion of
Iraq. (He had starred with Steve Martin in an Off Broadway production of
“Waiting for Godot” in 1988.) In 2013, Mr. Williams returned to series
television in “The Crazy Ones,” a CBS comedy that cast him as an
idiosyncratic advertising executive, but it was canceled after one
Williams had completed work on several films that have not yet been
released, including a third installment of the “Night at the Museum”
franchise that Fox has scheduled for December, and “Merry Friggin’
Christmas,” an independent comedy about a dysfunctional family. He also
provided the voice of an animated character called Dennis the Dog in a
British comedy, “Absolutely Anything,” that is planned for release next
year, and appeared in “Boulevard,” an independent movie that was shown
at the Tribeca Film Festival but does not yet have theatrical
Williams was an admitted abuser of cocaine — which he also referred to
as “Peruvian marching powder” and “the devil’s dandruff” — in the 1970s
and ‘80s, and addressed his drug habit in his comedy act. “What a
wonderful drug,” he said in a sardonic routine from “Live at the Met.”
“Anything that makes you paranoid and impotent, give me more of that.”
2006, he checked himself into the Hazelden center in Springbrook, Ore.,
to be treated for an addiction to alcohol, having fallen off the wagon
after some 20 years of sobriety.
later explained in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that this
addiction had not been “caused by anything, it’s just there.”
waits,” Mr. Williams continued. “It lays in wait for the time when you
think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m O.K.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not
O.K. Then you realize, ‘Where am I? I didn’t realize I was in
2009, he underwent heart surgery for an aortic valve replacement at the
Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, an event that Mr. Williams said caused him to
take stock of his life.
“You appreciate little things,” he said in an interview in The New York Times, “like walks on the beach with a defibrillator.”
seriously, Mr. Williams said he had reassessed himself as a performer.
“How much more can you give?” he told The Times. “Other than, literally,
open-heart surgery onstage? Not much. But the only cure you have right
now is the honesty of going, this is who you are. I know who I am.”
this year, Mr. Williams checked himself into a rehab facility. His
publicist told People magazine that he was “taking the opportunity to
fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains
Correction: August 12, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary
misstated the name and title of Prince Charles’s wife, with whom the
prince once attended a London performance by Mr. Williams. She is
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall — not Lady Camilla Bowles.
-New York Times