Beloved late comedian Robin Williams is the subject of a new documentary, titled Robin’s Wish, which explores the final days of the actor’s life as well as his struggles with depression, insomnia, and Lewy body dementia – a type of brain disease that affected his thinking, memory and movement control.
Williams’ widow Susan Schneider Williams gave insight into the Mrs Doubtfire star’s mental health battles, with the diagnosis of Lewy body dementia only being confirmed several years after the actor’s death.
“He was the bravest man in the world, playing the hardest role of his life,” said Schneider Williams, an artist and brain health advocate who now serves as vice-chair of the American Brain Foundation. “For someone as brilliant as Robin, who put his heart and soul into his career, to just start losing his abilities … it was devastating for him to watch what it means to be human slipping through his fingers.”
She also explained that in the months leading to his death, doctors had ordered the couple to sleep separately in an attempt to aid Robin’s insomnia.
Recalling the “hard” decision to sleep in a different bedroom to Robin, Susan said: “He said to me, ‘Does this mean we’re separated?’ That was a really shocking moment. When your best friend, your partner, your love – you realise that there’s a giant chasm somewhere, and you can’t see where it is but that’s just not based in reality. That was a hard moment.”
She added, “Robin and I knew there was so much more going on. Robin was right when he said to me, ‘I just want to reboot my brain.’ In that moment, I promised him that we would get to the bottom of this. I just didn’t know that would be after he passed.”
The night before his death, Schneider Williams said he told her “Good night, my love” before retiring to bed.
“All signs looked like he was getting better,” Schneider Williams said. “We were in the middle of adjusting medications for his Parkinson’s and depression and had just switched a couple of them. It appeared that he was starting to sleep better, and he seemed more engaged and interested in reading. But clearly, that wasn’t the case.”
She continued, “Robin’s suicide was really a consequence of brain disease; his brain was so compromised. I look at it like, Robin wanted to end the disease – he just didn’t realise that meant he would end, too.”
Robin Williams died in August 2014 by suicide. He was 63.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.