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Robin Williams, Oscar Winner, Dies After Hanging Himself

By Rob Golum
August 12, 2014 6:10 PM EDT 243 Comments
Robin Williams plays Mork, right, with Pam Dawber as Mindy, in the TV comedy "Mork & Mindy" in 1981. Williams started as a stand-up comic and gained fame with the TV comedy “Mork & Mindy.”
Source: ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
Robin Williams plays Mork, right, with Pam Dawber as Mindy, in the TV comedy "Mork & Mindy" in 1981. Williams started as a stand-up comic and gained fame with the TV comedy “Mork & Mindy.”

Robin Williams, the Oscar-winning comic and actor known for his quick wit, improvisational humor and versatility as a dramatic actor, died yesterday after hanging himself in his home. He was 63.

Firefighters found Williams in a seated position with a belt around his neck at his house in Tiburon, California. His left wrist had been superficially slashed and a pocket knife was found near the body. There were no signs of a struggle. The finding of death by asphyxia is preliminary, Keith Boyd, a lieutenant at the Marin County Sheriff’s Coroner Division, said today in a press conference.

Williams had been battling severe depression, according to a statement from his publicist, Mara Buxbaum.

Williams started as a stand-up comic and gained fame with the television comedy “Mork & Mindy,” which ran from 1978 to 1982. On film, he won an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his portrayal of a therapist in “Good Will Hunting” (1997). He also received Oscar nominations for best actor in a leading role, for his performances in “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), “Dead Poets Society” (1989) and “The Fisher King” (1991). He provided the voice of the wacky genie in the Walt Disney Co. animated feature “Aladdin” (1992).

“I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings,” Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider, said yesterday in a statement. “I am utterly heartbroken.”

It was Williams’s ABC TV role as an alien who came to study Earth that launched his Hollywood career. He garnered a dozen Golden Globe nominations and won six times, including for playing Mork, from the planet Ork.

‘Happy Days’

The character first appeared in a 1978 episode of the series “Happy Days,” according to the Internet Movie Database, before his own show started later that year.

The actor also won two Emmy awards, in 1987 and 1988, for roles in variety shows. In all, he was nominated eight times for Emmys, including for “Mork & Mindy.”

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Friends in Hollywood expressed their shock at word of Williams’s death.

“I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams,” fellow comedian Steve Martin wrote on his Twitter account. “Mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.”

Williams was known to make appearances at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, near his home in Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay area, where he would perform his standup routine and test new material.

Recent Series

He returned to television last year on CBS with “The Crazy Ones,” a series about an advertising agency that also featured Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Wolk. The network canceled the show in May at the end of its first season.

Marin County Communications received an emergency call at 11:55 a.m. local time yesterday concerning an unconscious man inside a home in Tiburon, according to Boyd. The actor, who was pronounced dead at 12:02 p.m., was last seen alive at his home at 10:30 the previous night, according to Boyd.

Local authorities plan to conduct an investigation before confirming the cause of death, according to the statement. A forensic examination is scheduled for today, with toxicology testing to be conducted later, the coroner said.

In addition to depression, Williams struggled with substance abuse, including an addiction to cocaine in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and alcoholism. He had been treated for depression, Boyd said.

Belushi’s Death

He was a friend of the comic John Belushi, who died of a drug overdose in 1982, and partied with him frequently. The birth of his son and Belushi’s death at age 33 led Williams to quit drugs, the actor said in a June 2001 appearance on “Inside the Actors Studio.”

“Was it a wake-up call?” Williams said. “Oh yeah, on a huge level. The grand jury helped too.”

In August 2006, Williams checked himself in to a rehab facility for treatment of alcoholism, according to a statement at the time from his publicist. Last month, he entered a rehab facility in Minnesota for a program that reinforces sobriety, though he hadn’t suffered a relapse, the Los Angeles Times reported then, citing a representative.

Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951, in Chicago. He was a great-great-grandson of Mississippi Governor and Senator Anselm J. McLaurin, according to a biography on Imdb.com.

His mother, the former Laura McLaurin, was a model from New Orleans and his father, Robert Fitzgerald Williams, was a regional sales manager of Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln-Mercury division, according to his 1987 obituary by United Press International.

Privileged Upbringing

An only child, Williams lived with his parents in a 40-room house on 20 acres in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, according to a 1993 article in New York magazine. The community is 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Detroit.

“Robin had the entire third floor,” his mother said in an interview with the magazine. “He put his toy soldiers -- he had thousands of them -- in those rooms, carefully divided according to period.”

After his father retired and moved the family to Tiburon in California’s Marin County in 1968, Williams studied political science at Claremont Men’s College, where he discovered theater. He then dropped out to pursue acting.

He entered the Juilliard School in New York in 1973 to study theater and then began performing in nightclubs.

Williams’s wild comic talent followed in the footsteps of his idol Jonathan Winters, according to Imdb.com. His movie roles ranged from “Popeye” (1980) “Flubber” (1997) and the cross-dressing “Mrs. Doubtfire,”(1993) to dramatic roles such as “Awakenings” (1990) and “Good Will Hunting.” The day after his death, DVD versions for many of Williams’s films were unavailable at Amazon.com.

Latest Projects

He had three projects in post-production, according to Imdb.com. He provides the voice of Dennis the Dog in the feature “Absolutely Anything” and reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” scheduled for release on Dec. 19, according to Box Office Mojo.

In “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” he plays a grandfather who embarks on an eight-hour road trip with his son, played by Joel McHale, to track down forgotten presents.

Williams was on the honorary board of Trips For Kids, a Mill Valley, California-based non-profit group that organizes mountain bike outings and environmental education for disadvantaged kids. Other members include Huey Lewis, Bob Weir, Peter Coyote and Carlos Santana.

Williams had three children, Zachary, Zelda and Cody, from two previous marriages, according to his publicist’s office. He and Schneider were wed in October 2011, US Weekly reported at the time.

“On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief,” Schneider said in the statement. “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.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Golum in Los Angeles at rgolum@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net Steven Gittelson

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