The announcement that Robin Williams had passed away spread shock waves around the world. He was one of America’s favorite comedians and rightly regarded as a national treasure. His manic energy combined with his lighting fast wit and comedic timing made him unlike any comedian before or since. The world became a different and much funnier place when Williams burst onto the scene in the late 1970s and his passing left us with a big hole to fill in terms of his comedic genius.
However, as shocking as his death was, it could not be considered complete unexpected given his past, well-publicized struggles with depression, alcohol and drugs. Williams had developed a reputation early on in his “Mork & Mindy” days of being a hard partier which developed into addictions that would plague him off and on over the remainder of his lifetime.
The Beginning of Williams’ Career
In the late 1970s, Robin Williams burst onto the national scene thanks to his appearances on a short-lived revival of “Laugh-In”. While the show itself was cancelled fairly early, Williams’ manic energy and full throttle comedy caught the attention of ABC who quickly cast a guest appearance on “Happy Days” and then created “Mork & Mindy” around his talents.
Williams partied hard and quickly developed an addiction to cocaine and alcohol. It was in 1982 when Williams was greatly affected by the death of John Belushi who died from a combination of heroin and cocaine. Williams quit cocaine cold turkey along with alcohol and he remained sober for the next two decades. A big part of Williams’ stand-up routine was dedicated to his addictions and he shared his struggles with the world.
The Turn of the 21st Century
After over 20 years of being sober, Williams was riding high on his highly successful career which included four Oscar nominations and winning Best Supporting Actor for “Good Will Hunting”. However, in 2006 Williams admitted on an interview with “Good Morning America” that he had fallen off the wagon and he admitted himself to rehab for alcohol addiction. He stated that his returning to his old ways was very gradual and that it would be something to be mindful of for the rest of his life.
In 2009, Williams had heart surgery to replace his aortic valve, something that is common with those who abuse alcohol and drugs. In addition, Williams had a family history of heart disease and his doctor believed that his past abuse was not a contributing factor. Robin Williams admitted during his following live engagements that he was drawing his comedy from his “drinking, divorce and open heart surgery”.
By 2014, the illnesses that Williams had seemingly kept at bay came back into his life again when he checked into rehab in early July. Although he said it was precautionary, Williams had suffered a number of career setbacks with his TV series “The Crazy Ones” being cancelled, his movie, “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” going nowhere and the financial pressures of his two divorces putting him in deep trouble. Finally, it was revealed after his suicide that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.
For now, it appears that his death was attributable to a combination of factors, but his addictions certainly played a role in ending what was an absolutely extraordinary life.
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