A new documentary explores the life and death of Robin Williams. In the film, Williams’ loved ones talk about the comedian’s successes and insecurities.
During his career, Robin Williams wore many hats. As a stand-up comedian, he was an eccentric performer who was quirky yet affable. As an actor, he assumed roles that accentuated both his comedic chops and his ability to fulfill serious roles.
However, audiences may not be as familiar with his life outside of what was seen on the silver screen. For example, Williams was a generous philanthropist. He performed comedy routines for U.S. troops overseas multiple times. He also dealt with severe depression that may have led to his untimely death.
The documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” explores the life of the iconic comedian. Directed by Marina Zenovich, the film shows his progression from struggling stand-up comedian to one of the most famous actors in the world. It also conveyed his personal life, including his insecurities and difficulties trying to manage drug and alcohol addiction.
Released nearly four years after Williams took his own life, the documentary examines his life on and off stage. The film contains archival footage of his career as well as audio recordings from interviews that revealed a different side to the comedian.
Robin Williams: The Entertainer
Williams was born on July 21, 1951. As a child, he spent most of his childhood living in Illinois and Michigan. When his father retired, his family moved to San Francisco, California, where Williams eventually enrolled in his first improvisational comedy class.
In 1973, Williams accepted a scholarship to attend Juilliard School, a performing arts college in New York City. After leaving Juilliard in 1976, he moved back to San Francisco and began his career as a stand-up comedian. He amused crowds with his vibrant and fast-paced style of comedy.
“In my head, my first sight of him was that he could fly — because of his energy,” David Letterman said in the documentary. “It was like observing an experiment.”
Williams’ quirky sense of humor as a comedian caught the attention of the producers of the sitcom “Happy Days,” who eventually wrote him into the show as Mork, an extraterrestrial from outer space. After receiving praise on “Happy Days,” Williams reprised his role as Mork on the show “Mork and Mindy,” which ran from 1978 to 1982.
Over the next three decades, Williams starred in many financially successful and critically acclaimed films. His 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire earned more than $441 million worldwide during its theatrical run. In 1998, he won an Academy Award for his role in the movie “Good Will Hunting.”
Robin Williams: The Man
Williams was loud, energetic and eccentric as a comedian. However, his loved ones maintain that he was quiet and reserved when not performing. It was a side to Williams that audiences did not get to see.
“He was very quiet in real life,” comedienne Elayne Boosler, a longtime friend to Williams, said in the documentary. “You wouldn’t know it if you met him in the daytime.”
Williams forged a friendship with comedian Steve Martin after they worked together in the off-Broadway show “Waiting for Godot.” Martin said that Williams took on a role that was emotionally vulnerable, which matched Williams’ disposition.
“On stage, he was a master, and in charge, and funny, and quick,” Martin said in the documentary. “I think he was really comfortable on stage and less comfortable off stage.”
Throughout his career, Williams dealt with addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He began using cocaine when “Mork and Mindy” experienced success, using large amounts of the drug in bars and clubs. After the overdose death of his friend John Belushi, Williams conferred with a doctor about his cocaine use. The physician concluded that Williams did not have a problem with cocaine.
“That was before they’d started to acknowledge it was psychologically addicting,” Williams told the LA Times in 1991. “And then at a certain point you realize, maybe it is. Physically I’m not craving it, but mentally I’m really thinking it might be a good idea.”
Six months before the birth of his first child, Williams stopped using drugs and alcohol. However, staying sober wasn’t easy. He even performed jokes about his difficulties staying away from alcohol after “Mork and Mindy” was canceled.
Williams successfully managed his addiction for years, but he began drinking again in 2003 while filming a movie in Alaska. During this time, his mental health problems grew worse. He was also losing weight and didn’t know why. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, weight loss is a telltale symptom of depression.
“His pathos was seeking to entertain and please, and he felt when he wasn’t doing that, he was not succeeding as a person,” Williams’ son Zak said in the documentary. “That was always hard to see. In so many senses, he was the most successful person I know. And yet he didn’t always feel that.”
In his final years, Williams’ depression worsened. Many of his friends and family noticed a change in his mood and demeanor. His youthful exuberance was gone. Unbeknownst to many, Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few months before he died.
Williams’ autopsy revealed that he had developed Lewy body dementia, a brain disease that causes anxiety and hallucinations, prior to his death. According to the journal Scientific American, about 1.3 million Americans live with this disease.
Many of his loved ones believe Lewy body dementia exacerbated the depression that contributed to his death. On Aug. 11, 2014, Williams took his own life. Neither drugs nor alcohol were directly involved in his death.
Upon news of Williams’ death, people across the world honored Williams on social media. His peers in Hollywood expressed gratitude for the indelible mark he left on the movie industry. As “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” showed, his unpredictable and zany approach to comedy will be long remembered.
“You’re only given a little spark of madness — and if you lose that, you’re nothing,” Williams said in an interviewed prior to his death. “From me to you, don’t ever lose that.”
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