What the last twelve months of Robin Williams’ life were like

On August 11, 2014, the world lost Robin Williams to suicide at the age of 63. From his breakout role in the 1978 sitcom Mork & Mindy to his work in blockbusters including Good Will Hunting and Aladdin, Robin Williams moved through comedy and drama with ease, cementing himself as an icon unable to be defined by genre. Little did we know that he was fighting for his life.

After months of paranoid delusions and a disintegrating memory, Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in May 2014. However, three months after his death, a forensic pathologist found that the screen legend was misdiagnosed, according to the late legend’s wife Susan Schneider Williams’ essay for the medical journal Neurology. Williams’ autopsy revealed that he actually had Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), an aggressive and incurable brain disorder that Schneider Williams believes lead Williams to take his own life (although, the science behind that connection isn’t quite clear).

Although Robin Williams spent the last year of his life seeking answers, he still managed to spread joy and happiness to his fans like he had done his whole career. But behind the scenes was a different story. Let’s find out what the last twelve months of Robin Williams’ life were like.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Robin Williams talks marriage and heart surgery

During a September 2013 interview with CBS This Morning to promote his new sitcom The Crazy Ones — his first leading television role since the 1978 classic Mork & Mindy — Robin Williams opened up about his recent marriage — “Third time, this is the charm. That’s it — no more,” he quipped — and working after heart surgery. Williams required an aortic valve replacement in 2009 and made a full recovery. “The cow valve is still working. I can crap standing up,” Williams joked while sipping his coffee. “Morning, everybody.”

Then striking a more serious tone, Williams said the heart surgery was “a big second chance” and “a giant reboot” that allowed him to “appreciate” life more. “Every day above ground as they say. Do earth worms say ‘every day below ground?’ You graze every four weeks,” he said, adding, “I’m so glad I didn’t get the mechanical valve because you can hear them. Tick, tick, tick, tick.”

Robin Williams opened up about his relapse and return to television

After 20 years of sobriety, Robin Williams suffered an infamous relapse in 2006. He spoke with Good Morning America‘s Diane Sawyer at the time about his struggle with addiction, but in a 2013 interview with Parade, the Hook actor opened up about that fateful day.

“One day I walked into a store and saw a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And then that voice — I call it the ‘lower power’ — goes, ‘Hey. Just a taste. Just one.’ I drank it, and there was that brief moment of ‘Oh, I’m okay!’ But it escalated so quickly,” he explained, adding, “Within a week I was buying so many bottles, I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street. I knew it was really bad one Thanksgiving when I was so drunk they had to take me upstairs.”

He also explained why he returned to television with CBS’s The Crazy Ones. Spoiler: He needed the money. The idea of having a steady job is appealing. I have two [other] choices: go on the road doing stand-up, or do small, independent movies working almost for scale [minimum union pay],” he said, adding, “The movies are good, but a lot of times they don’t even have distribution. 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.”

His hilarious Reddit AMA was 100% Robin Williams

In September 2013, Robin Williams participated in a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) where he answered questions from fans about everything from his favorite roles to life advice. As usual with Williams, his responses were hilarious and touching.

On Disney creating the role of Genie in Aladdin just for him: “I don’t know — initially they came in and I was just doing the scripted lines and I asked ‘Do you mind if I try something?’ and then 18 hours of recording later, they had the genie. I just started playing, and they said ‘just go with it, go with it, go with it.’ So I improvised the character. I think that in the end, there were something like 40 different voices that I did for that role.”

On calling Steven Spielberg while he was filming Schindler’s List to cheer him up: “I think I only called him once, maybe twice. I called him when I was representing People for the Valdheimers Association. A society devoted to helping raise money to help older Germans who had forgotten everything before 1945. I remember him laughing and going ‘thank you.'”

On his recipe for success: “Truly loving what you do. Because there will be good days and bad days.”

Sobriety and family life centered Robin Williams in the last year of his life

While promoting The Crazy Ones, Robin Williams sat down with Los Angeles CBS2‘s Pat Harvey in 2013 to discuss his past battles with addiction and being sober while filming. Joking that he’s “done the research on playing an alcoholic,” Williams revealed that he was seven years sober at the time of the interview. “You know, ‘Yeah, I’m more focused on the present,’ and that helps, especially when you’re doing a series,” he explained.

He also admitted that during his time on Mork & Mindy, his drug use was bad that he “was on pretty much everything but skates.” He added, “But now, to be here and doing this is to appreciate it and participating, saying ‘What can I bring to it, and how can I help.'”

Then the proud father came out, and Williams’ gushed over his kids. “My daughter and my sons; my oldest son, I mean I’m so proud of him, I’m proud of all of them,” he said, adding, “(My daughter), she’s an actress, which is a tough way, but she’s also a writer and producer, and doing all these different things. And my oldest son is working kind of on social network sites right now.”

Robin Williams struggled to remember his lines on set

In the book Robin, published in 2018, author Dave Itzkoff takes a look into the final days of the iconic actor. According to the book, while Robin Williams was filming Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb he was unable to remember his lines. 

“He was sobbing in my arms at the end of every day. It was horrible. Horrible,” makeup artist Cheri Minns recalled, calling the sad experience of working with Williams “a nightmare.” She also lamented, “He shouldn’t have done that movie. That’s how I feel about it. … I said to his people, ‘I’m a makeup artist. I don’t have the capacity to deal with what’s happening to him.'”

Minns, attempting to cheer Williams up, suggested to the Oscar-winning actor that he should return to the stand-up stage in order to regain his confidence. “He just cried and said, ‘I can’t, Cheri. I don’t know how anymore. I don’t know how to be funny,'” she revealed.

Susan Schneider Williams revealed Robin Williams' struggles with the disease

Robin Williams’ third wife and widow, Susan Schneider Williams, also opened up for the book Robin, sharing the struggles that she and the legendary comedian faced just trying to figure out exactly what was slowly killing him. “It was like this endless parade of symptoms, and not all of them would raise their head at once,” she said, adding “It was like playing whack-a-mole. Which symptom is it this month? I thought, is my husband a hypochondriac? We’re chasing it and there’s no answers, and by now we’d tried everything.”

“Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it,” Susan explained, unaware of the disease that was attacking his brain. She revealed that after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Williams wasn’t convinced. “We had an answer,” she continued, “My heart swelled with hope. But somehow I knew Robin was not buying it.” Only after Robin’s death did she learn he actually suffered from Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia.

“I’ve spent this last year trying to find out what killed Robin,” she told People in 2015, adding, “To understand what we were fighting, what we were in the trenches fighting and one of the doctors said, ‘Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.'”

Robin Williams checked into rehab two months before his death

In July 2014 — two months before his death — Robin Williams checked into the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center near the town of Lindstrom, Minnesota, TMZ reported. According to a rep for the actor, Williams’ decision to seek help was not due to him breaking his sobriety. “After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud,” the rep told the publication.

News broke about his treatment after Williams posed for a picture with a Dairy Queen employee near the treatment center to help him maintain his long-term sobriety. During an interview with People in 1988, Williams admitted cocaine was his drug of choice early in his career. “Cocaine for me was a place to hide,” he said, adding, “Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down.”

Williams allegedly quit the drug cold turkey in 1982 when his first wife was pregnant with his first child. Coupled with the tragic death of his friend and fellow comic John Belushi due to a cocaine overdose, Williams knew he had to give it up. “The Belushi tragedy was frightening,” he told People, adding, “His death scared a whole group of show-business people. It caused a big exodus from drugs. And for me, there was the baby coming. I knew I couldn’t be a father and live that sort of life.”

A tribute to his daughter was Robin Williams' last Instagram post

Twelve days before his death, Robin Williams took to Instagram to wish his daughter a happy birthday. “#tbt and Happy Birthday to Ms. Zelda Rae Williams! Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl,” the beloved actor captioned the black and white photo. “Happy Birthday @zeldawilliams Love you!” Unfortunately, that Instagram post would be his last.

Zelda, who was born to Williams’ second wife Marsha Garces, shared a throwback pic of her own the day before her 25th birthday. “25 tomorrow…” she wrote in the now-deleted Instagram post (via Us Weekly). “Other than the blond, not much has changed. Thanks for the 9 month womb residency mama! All my love.”

While isolating at her home during the coronavirus pandemic, Zelda shared an image of a strip of photos from a visit she and her comedian dad paid to MTV’s TRL when she was a teenager. “Isolation spring deep cleaning is turning up some fun old gems,” she captioned the Twitter photo of the pair making goofy faces.

Robin Williams' widow revealed his last words

During an emotional interview with Good Morning America in 2015, Susan Schneider Williams, shared her husband’s final words. “I was getting in bed and he came in the room a couple of times … and he said, ‘Goodnight, my love,'” she said (via ABC News). “And then he came back again, and he looked like he had something to do. And that was like, ‘I think he’s getting better.’ … And then he said ‘goodnight, goodnight.’ That was the last.”

When she arrived back at their house the next day after Robin’s assistant found him unresponsive, Susan was unable to talk to her husband at first since emergency medical responders were on the scene. When she did get to see Robin, she said she “got to pray with him” and told him, “‘I forgive you 50 billion percent, with all my heart. You’re the bravest man I’ve ever known.’ You know, we were living a nightmare,” she said.

She went on to reveal that she didn’t blame her legendary husband “one bit” for taking his own life because his physical and mental state was “just disintegrating” due to Lewy body dementia. “If Robin was lucky, he would’ve had maybe three years left. And they would’ve been hard years,” she said.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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