Celebrated Comedian and Actor Robin Williams Dead at 63

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and Robert Simonson
11 Aug 2014

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

Academy Award-winning actor and celebrated comedian Robin Williams, last seen on Broadway in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, died Aug. 11 at age 63.

At approximately 11:55 AM, Marin County Communications received a 9-1-1 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in unincorporated Tiburon, CA. Williams was identified and pronounced dead at 12:02 PM.

According to a press release from the Sheriff's Office Coroner Division, an investigation is underway, but Williams' death is suspected "to be a suicide due to asphyxia." A forensic examination is scheduled for Aug. 12 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.

Williams' publicist would not confirm that his death was a suicide, but issued a statement to Playbill.com reading, "Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."

"This morning, I lost my husband and best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings," said Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, in a statement issued to the New York Times. "I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. 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." 



Williams, an Oscar winner for his supporting role in "Good Will Hunting," starred as the title role in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in 2011 and opposite Steve Martin in Waiting for Godot Off-Broadway. He was also seen on Broadway in Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.

Robin Williams came of professional age in the 1970s, an era that saw the most successful comedians transcend the usual boundaries of their profession and became not just famous, but superstars and, eventually, respected legitimate actors. Like his contemporary, Steve Martin, Mr. Williams eventually left regular stand-up work behind in favor of a rich and varied film career—featuring both comic and dramatic roles—and the occasional stage turn. Martin and Williams co-starred, in fact, in a 1988 Lincoln Center Theatre production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, directed by Mike Nichols. Reviews were mixed (critics found the comedians self-indulgent, and insufficiently respectful of the text), but the production was wildly popular with audiences.

Perhaps more than any other comedian of his generation, Robin Williams was known for his near limitless comic fluidity. Jokes, quips, references and impressions burst from his mouth like a seemingly unending string of firecrackers. When performing, he was rarely still, his arms windmilling, his eyes pinwheeling and her mouth caught in a wide, goofy grin, as if he was as amused as he was amusing. Fans, critics and colleagues alike often spoke of laughing more in his presence that in that of any other comedian.

Robin Williams first burst onto the wider American consciousness as the title alien in the hit sitcom "Mork & Mindy." Playing an irrepressible and zany extra-terrestrial allowed the young comedian to amply display his bountiful inventiveness and kinetic comic energy. Mork began as a one-off character on an episode of another sitcom, the 1950s-set "Happy Days." His guest appearance proved so popular with audiences that Mr. Williams was given his own show, starring opposite the Earthling love interest of Pam Dawber. The actor improvised much of his dialogue on the show, which ran from 1977 to 1982.

Before "Mork & Mindy" sputtered out to declining ratings, Mr. Williams was already starring in films. His intended break-out role, in the Robert Altman-directed "Popeye," failed with critics and audiences. But his turns in the film version of John Irving's novel "The World According to Garp" and Paul Mazursky's Soviet-fish-out-of-water story, "Moscow on the Hudson," brought him critical respect as an actor. It wasn't until 1986's "Good Morning, Vietnam," however, that he achieved solid success as a film star. The movie, directed by Barry Levinson, was a bittersweet mix of comedy and drama that cast him as a wartime disc jockey whose jocularity brought a little light into the lives of Vietnam soldiers. He received his first Oscar nomination for the part.

Another Oscar nod came with 1989's "Dead Poets Society," in which he played an inspiring 1950s English teacher. Unlike Mr. Williams' previous film turns, the Peter Weir film was a straight-ahead melodrama, though the actor did manage to inject a few laughs with impromptu impersonations of Marlon Brando and other actors performing Shakespeare. Thereafter, Mr. Williams asserted himself more as a serious actor, playing a doctor in "Awakenings" and a suffering homeless man in the surreal "The Fisher King" (another Oscar nomination).

He had a comic triumph as the antic animated genie in Disney's "Aladdin," another playing a middle-aged female nanny in "Mrs. Doubtfire," and a third playing half of a gay couple playing straight in "The Birdcage." All three were box office hits. He finally won the Oscar for his tough-love psychologist in Gus Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting" in 1997. He had his failures as well, and, following "Good Will Hunting," was often accused by critics as favoring material that leaned toward the sentimental and bathetic. Other film credits of this period included "Patch Adams," "Jack," "Bicentennial Man," "Being Human," "Jakob the Liar."

His career was peppered with returns to stand-up, many of these filmed. They included "An Evening With Robin Williams" (1982), "Robin Williams: Live on Broadway" (2002) and "Robin Williams: Weapons of Self Destruction." He was also a frequent guest on various talk shows and always arrived loaded for bear, virtually depended upon by the hosts and the studio audiences for a guaranteed ten minutes of electric, unpredictable entertainment.

Robin Williams struggled throughout his career with drug addiction. During his early years as a comedian, he was a frequent user of cocaine. (He once quipped, "Cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money.") He called the death of his fellow comic and friend John Belushi a "wake-up call." Nonetheless, he lapsed into addiction again later in life. He entered rehab in 2006 to combat his drinking.

He was married three times and is survived by his wife, Susan Schneider, and three children from his previous two unions.