Robin Williams’ son opens up about his father’s mental health, saying star was “frustrated” and “very uncomfortable” before his death
Robin Williams ‘son Zak has shared details about his late father, opening up about the actors’ mental health issues. Zak sat down for an interview with the “The Genius Life” podcast on Wednesday, his father’s birthday.
Zak and podcast host Max Lugavere lost a relative to Lewy body disease, a rare disease with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Williams committed suicide in 2014 at the age of 63. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but an autopsy showed he had Lewy body disease.
Zak said he saw “frustration” in his father when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“What he was going through didn’t match one by one [with] the experience of many patients with Parkinson’s disease, ”said Zak, 38. “He felt frustrated.
“There was a problem with concentration, which frustrated him. There were problems with how he was feeling. And also from a neurological point of view, he was not feeling well,” Zak said. “There was just more anxiety and depression and just things that he was going through and telling me about that made me realize he was very uncomfortable.”
“At least from my lens, what I found was someone who was having a hard time doing their job. And it was really irritating for him,” Zak said. “When you’re an artist, it goes beyond taking pride in what you play, it’s your livelihood.”
Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider Williams, wrote an article published by the American Academy of Neurology, explaining her husband’s diagnosis of Lewy bodies.
“As you may know, my husband Robin Williams suffered from the little known but fatal Lewy Body Disease (LBD). He died of suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing and relatively fast because of the symptoms of this disease and the pathology, ”she writes.
She said Williams had many symptoms that came and went, including a slight tremor in her left hand. She explained that the diagnosis of a person with Parkinson’s disease compared to that of Lewy body depended on which symptoms they had first. Because he first showed physical symptoms, Williams was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“The history can also complicate a diagnosis,” says Susan, adding that Williams had a history of depression which had not been active for six years, but which returned months before her death.
People with Parkinson’s disease often have many changes in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. One possible change is the presence of Lewy bodies, or clusters of specific substances in brain cells that are microscopic markers for Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers believe Lewy bodies may hold a clue as to the cause of Parkinson’s disease. However, Lewy bodies can also cause Lewy body dementia. An autopsy three months after Williams’ death showed he had this rather than Parkinson’s disease.
“Clinically he had Parkinson’s disease, but pathologically he had diffuse LBD. Robin’s predominant symptoms were not physical – the pathology confirmed it more than that. Whichever way you look at it – the presence of Lewy bodies cost him his life, ”she writes.
Zak said the Parkinson’s diagnosis was “a time of intense research and frustration for him.”
“I wanted to be there for him on a daily basis. I really wanted him because it can be very isolating, even if you are with your family and loved ones,” Zak said.
He also explained how his father’s suicide affected his own sanity. “I was healing myself through the trauma using alcohol,” he said. Zak said he saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his father died.
He said he signed up for a 12-step program and went to group therapy. “I was just fed up with trying to cure myself using harmful means,” he said.
He also spoke about the stigma surrounding mental health, especially among men. “I think a lot [men] feel isolated; many do not have the necessary opportunities, ”he said, adding that many do not have access to affordable mental health resources.
Zak started working with mental health organizations, including Bring Change 2 Mind, which uses multimedia campaigns and develops programs for young people to encourage conversations around mental health.
“I actually found myself spending time advocating for mental health as a way to heal this trauma,” he said. “For me, it was very healing.”
Zak posted a birthday message for his father on Instagram on Wednesday. “Dad, on the occasion of what would be your 70th birthday, I would like you to know that your amazing spirit lives in us,” he wrote. “Our family is going to celebrate you and your memory today. We miss you and we still love you!”