SAN FRANCISCO – Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, died Monday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.
Williams was pronounced dead at his San Francisco Bay Area home Monday, according to the sheriff's office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff's office said the preliminary investigation shows the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.
“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” said Williams' wife, Susan Schneider. “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 had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his press representative. Just last month, he announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse following 20 years of sobriety.
From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show “Mork and Mindy,” through his standup act and such films as “Good Morning, Vietnam,” the short, barrel-chested Williams ranted and shouted as if just sprung from solitary confinement. Loud, fast and manic, he parodied everyone from John Wayne to Keith Richards, impersonating a Russian immigrant as easily as a pack of Nazi attack dogs.
He was a riot in drag in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or as a cartoon genie in “Aladdin.” He won his Academy Award in a rare but equally intense dramatic role, as an empathetic therapist in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.”
Like so many other funnymen, Williams had dramatic ambitions. He played for tears in “Awakenings,” “Dead Poets Society” and “What Dreams May Come,” which led New York Times critic Stephen Holden to write that he dreaded seeing the actor's “Humpty Dumpty grin and crinkly moist eyes.”
But other critics approved, and Williams won three Golden Globes, for “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Fisher King.”
His other film credits included Robert Altman's “Popeye,” Paul Mazursky's “Moscow on the Hudson,” Steven Spielberg's “Hook” and Woody Allen's “Deconstructing Harry.” Onstage, Williams joined fellow comedian Steve Martin in a 1988 Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot.”
More recently, he appeared in the “Night at the Museum” movies, playing President Theodore Roosevelt. The third film in the series is in post-production, according to the Internet Movie Database.
In April, Fox 2000 said it was developing a sequel to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Williams was in talks to join the production.
Williams also made a short-lived return to TV last fall in CBS' “The Crazy Ones,” a sitcom about a father-daughter ad agency team that co-starred Sarah Michelle Gellar.
It was canceled after one season.
His personal life was often short on laughter. He had acknowledged drug and alcohol problems in the 1970s and '80s and was among the last to see John Belushi before the “Saturday Night Live” star died of a drug overdose in 1982.
Williams announced in 2006 that he was drinking again but rebounded well enough to joke about it during his recent tour.
“I went to rehab in wine country,” he said, “to keep my options open.” The following year, he told the AP that people were surprised he was no longer clean.
“I fell off the wagon after 20 years and people are like, ‘Really?' Well, yeah. It only kicks in when you really want to change,” he said.
To view a gallery of Robin Williams and reaction to his death, click here.