Robin Williams Called ‘Coward’: Fox News Host Apologizes For Remark On Beloved Comic’s Death

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith on Monday characterized Robin Williams as “such a coward,” while reporting what was then the apparent suicide of the beloved actor and comedian.

The manner of Robin Williams’ death has since been confirmed by the Marin County, California, Sheriff’s Department. A coroner said Tuesday morning that Williams hanged himself with his belt, leading to the asphyxiation that caused his death. The coroner also said that Williams’ wrists showed showed lacerations, suggesting that the Moscow on the Hudson star had earlier attempted to take his life by a different method and failed.

On a Fox News broadcast Monday, while discussing Williams’ relationship with his three children, Smith appeared to speculate about the mental state, as well as the personal character, of Robin Williams.

“It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, and they’re in their mid-20s and they’re inspiring you and exciting you and they fill you up with a kind of joy you can never have known,” the Fox News host said. “Yet something inside you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward, or whatever the reason that you decide have you to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.”

On Tuesday, however, when asked to explain his remark by the media news site MediaIte, Smith offered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology.

“I spent an entire hour talking about how much this man affected people’s lives and brought greatness to this world. I was just wondering aloud what could have made this man want to end it all. And it reminds us that we all have responsibility as friends and neighbors to help take responsibility to prevent this from happening. There are people who process suicide as a black-and white-issue. I don’t process anything as black-and-white,” Smith said.

“I would never presume to know anything about his private life. And if any of his family members and friends were to have seen me use the word ‘coward,’ I would be horrified. I would just to apologize to the end of the earth to anyone who might think that I meant to openly call him a coward. To the core of my being, I regret it. It just came out of my mouth. And I’m so sorry. And to anyone and their families who see that, I am sorry.”

Florida State University psychologist Thomas Joiner, author of the 2010 book Myths About Suicide, noted that characterizing suicidal people as “cowards” or “selfish” displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the mental illness that causes an individual to take his or her own life.

“It certainly seems selfish from the outside. I understand the sentiment. But the trouble is, in trying to reason about the suicidal mind from a non-suicidal place — that’s basically where most of these myths come from,” Joiner said in a National Public Radio interview in 2010. “What the suicidal person is thinking at the time is actually quite different from selfishness. Their idea is along the lines of, my death will be worth more than my life to others.

“Now, if you ponder that sentiment, that’s not selfish at all. In fact, if anything it’s the opposite. It’s very selfless. Now, let me make a key point about that idea that’s in the mind of suicidal people. That idea is mistaken, but the tragedy, one of hundreds of many tragedies about this event — or this phenomenon, rather — is that the suicidal person doesn’t know it’s mistaken. They think the idea is true, and it spurs their fatal behavior.”

As Robin Williams apparently did, Joiner’s own father suffered from a mental illness that led to his suicide.