Robin Williams, manic comedy star, dead at 63

Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed 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,” she added.

Williams had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his press representative.

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” and as a cartoon genie in “Aladdin.” He won his Academy Award in a rare but equally intense dramatic role as a teacher in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.”

Following Williams on stage, Billy Crystal once observed, was like trying to top the Civil War.

Like so many funnymen, Williams had serious ambitions, winning his Oscar for his portrayal of an empathetic therapist in “Good Will Hunting.” He also played for tears in “Awakenings,” ”Dead Poets Society” and “What Dreams May Come.” Williams won three Golden Globes, for “Good Morning, Vietnam,” ”Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Fisher King.”

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 recent years that he was again drinking 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.”

Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams would remember himself as a shy kid who got some early laughs from his mother by mimicking his grandmother. He opened up more in high school when he joined the drama club and he was accepted into the Juilliard Academy, where he had several classes in which he and Christopher Reeve were the only students and John Houseman was the teacher.

Encouraged by Houseman to pursue comedy, Williams identified with the wildest and angriest of performers: Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin.

“You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear,” he said in 1989. “Comedy can deal with the fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that it’s going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you’ve laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That’s what I do when I do my act.”

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