Robin Williams 'was sobbing in my arms every day'
Legendary comic told a makeup artist he didn't know how to be funny anymore, a new book reveals
This August will mark the fourth anniversary of Robin Williams’s death. The beloved comedian and actor was 63 when he died by suicide at home, causing shock and grief around the world.
Although Williams had openly battled depression, alcoholism and drug addiction throughout his life, the details of the poor health he was in before his death only became known after it. Now a new biography of Williams, Robin by Dave Itzkoff, reveals more about the incurable brain disease he was struggling with and the toll it took on his colleagues, family and, most significantly, the man himself.
Williams’s autopsy revealed that he had diffuse Lewy body disease (LBD), a degenerative condition that affects the memory and makes physical movement difficult, and can cause dementia and hallucinations.
Although he did not know he had the condition, he was keenly aware of his memory problems, and distressed to find he could not remember his lines while filming 2014’s Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, the film that gave him his last on-screen role.
“He was sobbing in my arms at the end of every day. It was horrible. Horrible,” Cheri Minns, a member of the film’s makeup team, told Itzkoff. “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 said she encouraged Williams to return to stand-up comedy, but he felt that he was no longer able to. “He just cried and said: ‘I can’t, Cheri. I don’t know how anymore. I don’t know how to be funny.’ ”
According to Itzkoff’s biography, Williams was given anti-psychotic medication after he had a panic attack while working on the film.
“I put myself in his place. Think of it this way: The speed at which the comedy came is the speed at which the terrors came,” his friend and fellow comedian Billy Crystal said.
“And all that they described that can happen with this psychosis, if that’s the right word – the hallucinations, the images, the terror – coming at the speed his comedy came at, maybe even faster, I can’t imagine living like that.”
The comedian’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, has said her husband fought to hold back the effects of the disease.
“People with LBD who are highly intelligent may appear to be okay for longer initially, but then, it is as though the dam suddenly breaks and they cannot hold it back anymore,” she wrote in a 2016 article for the medical journal Neurology, called “The Terrorist Inside my Husband’s Head.
“In Robin’s case, on top of being a genius, he was a Julliard-trained actor. I will never know the true depth of his suffering, nor just how hard he was fighting. But from where I stood, I saw the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life.”