The last hours of Robin Williams

That Sunday was an unusual Sunday.

And it was because that Sunday was a conventional Sunday.

“Good night my love,” said Robin. Then he waited for his wife Susan, whom he had met seven years earlier and married four years later, to reply. The San Francisco Bay, in its summery doze, rested behind Susan, framed in the huge windows of the room of the couple’s house in Tiburon, California, north of the city where the comedian had started his career by kicking himself. all the nightclubs. But Robin Williams did not pay attention to the bay, nor did he think of the cool night breeze lapping on the terrace of his house. He did not care. He was just paying attention to Susan, looking into her eyes, looking at her mouth, waiting for her to repeat the spell. He needed to hear it for the magic to work.

As always and as never.

“Good night, my love,” she said. A kiss. A caress. It was a liturgy for the couple that was performed every night with religious fervor on each and every day of each and every one of the seven years they had been together, even though they were physically separated, working in different cities. It was the sentence that put an end to the review of how the day had gone, how they felt, what had gone well, what worried them. And no, they couldn’t go to bed without the reply: good-night-my-love. Now they slept in separate rooms to make it easier for the actor to sleep, but they did not renounce the complicity of the last minutes together before going to bed. Robin smiled when he heard her, with that infinite grin of satisfaction that turned his face into a cartoon, transforming the oval shape of his head into a flat diamond, and he went to his room. We don’t know what went through Robin’s head, but we do know what Susan thought: she felt at that very moment that things were finally changing.

So August 10, 2014 had been a good Sunday after many bad Sundays. It had actually been a good weekend after many bad weekends. Again, the eve of a Monday opened infinite possibilities.

They had been trying for almost a year to figure out what the hell was wrong with Robin. No doctor was able to give them an explanation for the extreme anxiety, constant tremors and difficulty in reasoning that the comedian suffered after the summer of 2013. Doctors were confused by insomnia, constipation and the progressive deterioration of the sense of smell that He suffered, in addition to the actor’s previous depressive history and his years-long relationship with heroin and alcohol.

When they met, Robin was still mired in depression, but had been inactive for six years. A first diagnosis had ventured Parkinson’s, but neither Susan nor Robin fully believed it. Yes, there was also insomnia, linked to the disease, but there were no other symptoms that pointed in that direction. On August 10, 2014 Robin had claimed to feel better. So yeah, the second weekend in August 2014, boy, had it been a great weekend, Susan thought. It seemed that Robin was feeling better, that the medication he had been prescribed was working. There was hope. So she went to sleep hopeful.

The next morning she found her husband dead.

His lifeless body.

A belt around the neck.

At 11:55 am on August 11, 2014, Susan called 911. The ambulance took exactly seven minutes.


Robin returned to her room slowly.

He closed the door to be alone with his illness, the seriousness of which he had probably hidden from his wife that weekend, that Sunday, whether or not he intended to end his life a few hours later. He was a guy who had studied acting at Juilliard, so why not. Why not act to ease your wife’s pain as well? Only in this way can it be understood that she thought that everything was fine, that there was hope, that the medication, which would later be discovered that the only thing that had done was to aggravate the disease and accelerate its progression and symptoms, was working.

He knew perfectly well that something was not right. He knew that he had crossed a new frontier that he had never known before, not in a depression, not in his dabbling with drugs.

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In early April, Robin had a panic attack while filming Night at the Museum: Pharaoh’s Secret. I was in Vancouver. It was the third time he had played the same role (Teddy Roosevelt, or rather the wax version of Teddy Roosevelt, infatuated with Sacajawea), so he should have felt comfortable in his skin. It was also a secondary without too much weight in the plot. During the filming of the film, Robin had had trouble remembering lines from the script, but above all, as he had admitted to the director, Shawn Levy, he had had trouble improvising. And that was the thin red line that had probably given Robin Williams the magnitude of his tragedy.

He knew it was not a matter of age. Three years earlier, in his sixties, he had defended on Broadway, every day (some of them with two daily performances), for five months, the play The Bengal tiger in the Baghdad zoo. “This memory loss and inability to control his anxiety was devastating for him,” wrote Susan in September 2016, in Neurology, a scientific journal, to stimulate research on this disease.

Because all this he did tell Susan.

Her doctor had prescribed an antipsychotic medication to help her manage her anxiety. Antipsychotics often make things worse for people with Lewy dementia. In addition, Robin had a high sensitivity to medications and, at times, her reactions were unpredictable. It is now known that this is also another symptom of the disease.

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“He was very concerned about the insecurities he had about himself and the interactions with others. The fears were unfounded and I couldn’t convince him otherwise. I was powerless to help him see his own brilliance,” says Susan.

“For the first time, my own reasoning had no effect in helping my husband find the light through the tunnels of his fear. I felt his disbelief in the truths he was telling. We had reached a place we never had before. state. My husband was trapped in the twisted architecture of his neurons and no matter what he did, he couldn’t get it out, “she adds.

The actor finished filming at the end of May. And maybe that was the moment when he decided that there were things that had to be told and others that did not.

In reality, the things he was hiding were summed up in one: the magnitude of the symptoms of his disease, a Lewy body dementia that the doctors would not discover until his autopsy and that he, of course, did not know. Because Robin Williams would die without knowing what was happening to him. Susan would not know until three months after her husband’s death she read in the coroner’s report what had happened. According to the autopsy report, he had about a 40% loss of dopamine neurons and virtually no neurons were free of Lewy bodies in the entire brain and brainstem. Doctors and Susan suspected that she had concealed the severity of her symptoms, especially at the end. Like hallucinations.

“During the course of Robin’s battle, he had experienced almost all the symptoms of Lewy body dementia except one: He never said he had hallucinations. A year after his death, when speaking with one of the doctors who checked his records, it became clear that he most likely had hallucinations, but that he was also keeping them to himself, “wrote Susan three years after the actor’s death. When Robin returned to his room he did know.

robin williams, his first wife valerie williams and a friend after recording a saturday night live show in new york

Ron Galella

Everything had started at the end of October 2013, two years after getting married (in third nuptials). Robin had begun the usual pilgrimage of the sick person who does not know what he is sick from, when the real fear of a disease without turning back has not yet begun. Williams’s symptoms were not related to each other: he suffered from constipation and difficulty urinating, also heartburn, yes, but they were accompanied by insomnia, and his sense of smell was failing and he felt too much stress. Symptoms seemed to come and go randomly.

Some symptoms seemed more frequent than others, but all of them increased in frequency and severity as time passed. “In winter, problems with paranoia, delusions, insomnia, memory lapses and high levels of cortisol, just to name a few symptoms, were taking hold,” wrote Susan years later.

Williams also suffered a slight tremor in his left hand, a symptom that also came and went (in many television interviews, the actor, to hide it, held the arms of the guest sofas with that hand; as he constantly jumped from them to improvise, everyone went unnoticed … seeing some of those interviews, it is possible to suspect that the tremor could have started much earlier) and that it would be decisive in the acceleration of events, since it would lead to a wrong diagnosis. But before even thinking about a movement disorder, the tremor was associated with an old injury to the actor’s left shoulder. Then yes, the tremor was associated with Parkinson’s. On May 28, 2014, three months before his death, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

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There was another reason for Susan to be hopeful on August 10th. “I was getting used to the two of us spending more time reviewing how our day had been. More and more everything revolved around fear or anxiety. They were concerns that I had had before, but always within the normal. Now they appeared too often. Once the coroner’s report was reviewed, a doctor was able to point out to me that there was a high concentration of Lewy bodies within the tonsil.

This likely caused the acute paranoia and emotional responses that had nothing to do with the way he was that he was suffering from. How I wish she had known what she was fighting against, that what was happening to her was not a weakness of her heart, spirit or character, “Susan noted years later. That is why that Sunday was different: it made her believe that she felt better. What he did not know is that it would not give him any comfort later to know that it was a lie.

“I will never know the true depth of his suffering, or how hard he was fighting. But from where I was standing, I saw the bravest man in the world playing the most difficult role of his life. Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. you imagine the pain he felt when he experienced his disintegration ? And not something you would ever know the name of or understand? Neither he nor anyone else could stop him, no amount of intelligence or love could stop him, “his widow now recalls.

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The last hours of Robin Williams

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