The world was shocked when Robin Williams, one of the most talented actors and comedians of our time, chose to end his life by committing suicide in 2014. People seemed distraught by the act itself, with the biggest question circulating with no answer to be found: Why would someone who seemed to have it all want to kill themselves?
To put the question to rest once and for all, Robin’s widowed wife, Susan, opened up in an interview with Good Morning America.
“It was not depression that killed Robin Williams,” she said. “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms, and it was a small one.”’
His widow suggested a different reason for his suicide — one that has been supported by Robin’s doctors.
“I’ve spent this last year trying to find out what killed Robin,” Susan said, “to understand what we were fighting, what we were in the trenches fighting. And one of the doctors said, ‘Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.”
After performing an autopsy on Robin’s body, it was revealed that the funny man who was rumoured to succumb to severe depression had really been struggling with a rare brain disease called Lewy body dementia. The disease caused the actor and comedian to experience hallucinations and various other debilitating neurological symptoms, including depression.
Lewy body dementia can cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease, but is caused by a different buildup of protein than the one linked with Alzheimer’s. And though discovered in the early 1900s by Frederic Lewy, who found the abnormal buildup in the brain tissue of dementia patients, very few people are aware of the disease today.
The condition is the result of Lewy bodies, which are clumps of protein called alpha synuclein, building up in the brain — though no one knows why they accumulate.
Lewy body dementia can cause hallucinations, altered mental states, and deteriorating motor functions. It is suspected that Robin was aware that his body was failing him and, struggling with such mental afflictions, chose suicide to gain control over his body and destiny.
“I know now the doctors—the whole team—was doing exactly the right things,” said Susan, who noted that patients with the disease often behave like a pinball machine, “It’s just that this disease was faster than us and bigger than us. We would have gotten there eventually.”
According to Susan, Robin’s final days were filled with confusion, in which one moment he would be completely lucid, and the next he would start speaking nonsense. Just before his suicide, his condition had worsened greatly.
Despite the common assumption that Susan would be angry for Robin’s choice to leave her and their family, she said she was a peace with Robin’s decision to control his life.
“I mean, there are many reasons. Believe me,” she said. “I’ve thought about this—of what was going on in his mind, what made him ultimately commit, you know, to do that act. And I think he was just saying, ‘No.’ And I don’t blame him one bit. I don’t blame him one bit.”
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