Robin Williams' wife: He had Parkinson's disease

Robin Williams' wife: He had Parkinson's disease

Robin Williams' wife: He had Parkinson's disease


by Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 11:39 AM

Updated Thursday, Aug 14 at 1:32 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease and was sober at the time of his suicide, his wife said Thursday.

In a statement, Susan Schneider said that Williams, 63, was struggling with depression, anxiety and the Parkinson's diagnosis when he was found dead Monday in his Northern California home.

Schneider did not offer details on when the actor comedian had been diagnosed or his symptoms.

Williams' death shocked fans and friends alike, despite his candor about decades of struggle with substance abuse and mental health. With Parkinson's, Williams faced shouldering yet another challenge.

Parkinson's disease is an incurable nervous system disorder that involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Tremors, sometimes starting out in just one hand, are among the early symptoms.

It can also cause rigid, halting walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia. Symptoms worsen over time and can often be treated with drugs.

Actor Michael J. Fox, who has long had the disease, is known for his efforts to fund research into it. Pop star Linda Ronstadt revealed in 2013 that she had Parkinson's and said the disease had robbed her of her ability to sing. Boxer Muhammad Ali, the late radio personality Casey Kasem and the late Pope John Paul II are among other well-known figures diagnosed with the disease.

"Robin's sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson's disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly," Schneider said.

Parkinson's affects about 1 million people nationwide, 6 million globally. The cause isn't known but genes are thought to play a role.

There is no standard test for Parkinson's; doctors rely on symptoms, medical history and neurological exams to make the diagnosis.

Dr. Tanya Simuni, director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern University's medical school in Chicago, said patients often react to the diagnosis with surprise and despair.

Depression is often present even in early stages and can sometimes precede tremors that help doctors make the diagnosis, Simuni said.

Referring to Williams, she said it's important to emphasize that not everyone who is depressed is at risk for Parkinson's, "especially in this tragic case."

She noted that many can live for years without severely debilitating symptoms, but also that 20 years after diagnosis, as many as 80 percent develop dementia. Antidepressants are among drugs commonly prescribed for the disease, along with medication to help control jerky movements.

Dr. Christopher Gomez, neurology chairman at the University of Chicago, said while it makes sense to think that a diagnosis could make someone feel depressed, depression and Parkinson's have a deeper, more organic connection. They are thought to affect the same regions of the brain, although their neurological relationship isn't well understood, he said.

"It's downright curious that there's so much depression in Parkinson's," Gomez said.

Williams had publicly acknowledged periodic struggles with substance abuse, including alcohol. Recently, depression prompted him to enter rehab.

Schneider said that those who loved Williams are taking solace in the outpouring of affection and admiration for him.

"It is our hope in the wake of Robin's tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid," she said in her statement.

Williams, whose comic brilliance first gained wide attention on the 1980s sitcom "Mork & Mindy," evolved into a respected dramatic actor who starred in films such as "Good Will Hunting," for which he an Oscar, "Dead Poets Society" and "Mrs. Doubtfire."

He was invariably upbeat in public and with his friends and colleagues, and was known for his philanthropic efforts and support for U.S. troops and veterans.


Associated Press Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.


Robin Williams' wife statement on Parkinson's

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Susan Schneider, Robin Williams' wife, released the following statement Thursday announcing her husband had early stages of Parkinson's disease:

"Robin spent so much of his life helping others. Whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film or television, our troops on the front lines, or comforting a sick child - Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid.

Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched. His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.

Robin's sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson's disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.

It is our hope in the wake of Robin's tragic passing that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid."



Robin Williams' public joy, private pain

AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- In public, Robin Williams shared only the joy he found in life, never the sorrow. He was the same man in private, shielding even longtime friends from the darkness of depression that finally enveloped him.

"I can honestly say I never saw him in the down times," said comedian David Steinberg, who was friends with Williams for more than 30 years and toured with him for six months last year in a two-man show. "I read about it, heard about it, but that down time he kept to himself."

When the endlessly inventive, explosively manic comedian and actor was found dead in his Northern California home Monday, an apparent suicide, the brutal shock was felt by fans, friends and colleagues alike.

Williams, 63, who had been so breezily open about seeking therapy - "I went to rehab in wine country to keep my options open," he joked in 2006 - minimized or hid the immensity of his pain from perhaps all but a handful of people.

Steve Martin, a pal who worked with Williams, tweeted that he was "stunned by the loss." Chevy Chase, in a statement, said he and friend Williams both suffered from depression but added, "I never could have expected this ending to his life."

Last month, the star of "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Good Will Hunting" and "Good Morning, Vietnam" said he was re-entering a 12-step program after months of nonstop work. After he died, his publicist confirmed he had suffered in recent weeks from depression.

It was one of several efforts over the years to overcome substance abuse. Solace from those close to him was a different matter - even as Williams faced self-described financial pressures.

Comedy club impresario Jamie Masada said he nicknamed Williams the "Doctor of Soul" because his irresistible humor could make people forget their problems. How Williams coped with his own woes, or that he had any, remained a mystery, Masada said.

"Robin always had this mask on. I could never tell that he was depressed. He had such high energy, always," said the owner of the famed Laugh Factory clubs.

Williams was in fine form last year during his U.S. concert tour with Steinberg, in which Steinberg served as interviewer and partner-in-laughs for his friend. Their venture stemmed from a benefit the pair had done for the Cleveland Clinic.

"He seemed a little mellower," said Steinberg, adding that there was never any drug or alcohol use by Williams during the tour which, while grueling, was a success.

Cinematographer John Bailey, who worked with Williams on the independent film "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn" in 2012, said the role he played, of a difficult, terminally ill man, was revealing.

It "gets to that sort of really dark humor that he had, which is just below the surface. In this film it's right there. People didn't really understand it. They didn't want to accept that part. It's a significant part of his genius."

Whatever distress he was feeling, Williams was invariably charming and professional, whether working for pay or charity, others said.

On the set of his 2013-14 CBS comedy, "The Crazy Ones," Williams' favorite word was "wonderful!" said series executive producer Dean Lorey, who also recalled his kindness toward Lorey's 16-year-old son on set.

"I remember seeing the two of them chatting together and thought, `Gotta remember this moment,'" Lorey said in an email exchange. "Robin would talk to anyone, in a very genuine way, and he always made them feel special."

In a September 2013 interview with Parade magazine, Williams said money was part of the reason for his rare return to a TV sitcom.

"There are bills to pay. My life has downsized, in a good way. I'm selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can't afford it anymore," Williams told Parade, adding that his two divorces hadn't cost him everything but that he'd "lost enough. Divorce is expensive."

Mara Buxbaum, Williams' publicist, said Wednesday he had "zero" financial difficulties.

The series' fate hung over Williams when he and Steinberg last spoke a couple months ago. Williams was waiting anxiously to hear whether the freshman show would be renewed for the 2014-15 season. It was canceled.

"It mattered to him," Steinberg said.

But Williams thought of others first. He gave and gave, of his immense talent, his friendship and more, and in ways both big and small. It wasn't just high-profile generosity, such as his efforts for Comic Relief and U.S. military and veterans, his friends said.

"He was one of those who just wasn't a taker. He was about looking after people," said Steinberg. "I wish that extended to himself."

Masada recalled a fundraiser he, Williams and comedian Paul Rodriguez held for a Los Angeles high school to help equip its football team. The benefit left the trio drenched in sweat because the school auditorium was stifling hot.

"A couple days later I got a call from the principal of the school, telling me that Robin Williams came back, brought a contractor to put in air conditioning for nothing and didn't want anybody to know about it," Masada said.

Gilbert Gottfried was another recipient of Williams' thoughtfulness. It was years ago in New York, when Gottfried was an up-and-coming comedian about to take the stage at the Improv in Times Square and Williams walked in. The club moved to bump Gottfried, but Williams demurred.

"He said, `I have people in the audience and I'd really like them to see Gilbert tonight,'" Gottfried recalled. Williams was just as warm when they ran into each a few years ago in NY, inviting him to a restaurant with Billy Crystal.

When they said goodbye, Williams mentioned he was off to rehab.

"So we hugged, and he just walked off and disappeared in the darkness," Gottfried said.


Associated Press Writer Leanne Italie in New York contributed to this report.


Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber(at) and on Twitter at


Robin Williams' death united many

AP Television Writer

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) -- I may have been among the last to learn of Robin Williams' death.

I was spending a few days in the Colorado woods. No laptop. No TV. No radio. No phone. Not so much as a wrist watch. For someone like me, who, like so many others, finds his every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour filled with emails, text alerts and old-fashioned phone calls, it was an alien but placid world.

Then, late Tuesday, I re-occupied the grid. Jarringly. As I found out.

I got my first word of Williams' tragic suicide moments after booting up my iPhone. I got an awful surprise, but it justified my usual qualms upon resuming my digital existence, even after a couple of hours offline at a concert. Filled with that familiar trepidation, if not outright dread, I watched the back-logged email stack up and my news apps update.

It used to be, you returned from a trip wondering what mail might be waiting to ambush you at the front door - a bill for a purchase you forgot you made or, God forbid, a jury summons. You would reel through your answering-machine messages, not all of which were likely to be welcoming. You would glance at unread newspapers with their dismal headlines.

That was about it. Re-entry was easier then. That's because the exit wasn't so extreme.

Today we live not so much in an information age as in total submersion, like citizens of Info-Atlantis. To shut our eyes and ears to information intake is to retreat into an alternate, now-unnatural state, for which we are liable to pay a price.

For me to get the news of Williams' death more than a day (an eternity!) after everyone else compounded the shock I joined them in, with other feelings of my own. Like my sense of negligence at being out of reach. Like my remorse at having dealt myself out of this communal experience.

The Internet-age term FOMO - "fear of missing out" - applies here in a striking if bitter way. Who wants to miss out on the grim or shocking news that united the public and fueled a national or even global conversation? No one likes to be blindsided, much less being the last one blindsided.

Granted, some of what I'm feeling is specific to my job. I'm part of the media machine. To be out of touch, however fleetingly, leaves me disoriented.

But today nearly everyone is part of the media machine. Everyone who tweets or has a Facebook page or uploads a video to YouTube. Everyone who blogs or posts a comment to a blog. We all are part of this ecology, both feeding into it and feeding on it.

So we are all complicit in the way that tragedies and other bombshells come at us so quickly and, at times, so overwhelmingly. And we understand the brevity of each story's lifespan, as it gives way to the next story. Dare to step away too long and you're liable to miss one of them.

Now re-engaged, I am scrambling to catch up with the death of Robin Williams, who, like so many others, I have a rich store of feelings to process. And here I'm scrambling to add my two-cents'-worth to the discussion, however belatedly it may be.

By Williams' sad passing, I have been reminded yet again what we all know, or should, about our obligations in the modern world: We log off at our peril.


EDITOR'S NOTE - Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at) and at . Past stories are available at


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