The death of actor and comedian Robin Williams came as a shock to many when news of his suicide broke in August of 2014. Even more shocking was that he had taken his own life, even if it was a well-known fact that he had long been suffering from depression prior to his death. But more detailed information on Williams’ suicide had emerged some three months later, when it was revealed that the actor was suffering from LBD, or Lewy body dementia, a disease whose symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This disease was the main focus of a new essay published by Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider, who talked in-depth about how LBD led to her husband taking his life more than two years ago.
Earlier this week, Schneider posted an essay on the journal Neurology discussing the last few months of Robin Williams’ life and how his LBD had become impossible to cope with. Schneider says that the symptoms first manifested in the fall of 2013, when her husband had been suffering from constipation, heartburn, insomnia, heightened levels of anxiety and stress, and other symptoms that didn’t seem related to the disease. By the winter of that year, more symptoms arose, including paranoia, delusions, and even worse cases of insomnia and memory problems.
Schneider noted one particular moment when her husband’s health issues seemed to be reaching critical mass, when he was shooting Night at the Museum 3 in the spring of 2014. She related how Williams was given an antipsychotic medication to ease the symptoms of a panic attack he suffered during the shooting, and how she later discovered that these drugs “make things worse” for LBD sufferers.
“During the filming of the movie, Robin was having trouble remembering even one line for his scenes, while just three years prior he had played in a full five-month season of the Broadway production Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, often doing two shows a day with hundreds of lines—and not one mistake. This loss of memory and inability to control his anxiety was devastating to him.”
In the end, the shooting was completed, and while Williams tried his best to hide his condition, his wife related that his state upon returning home in May was akin to a “747 airplane coming in with no landing gear.” As a classically-trained actor and a very intelligent man, Robin Williams was “playing the hardest role of his life,” and Schneider was at her wit’s end trying to figure out what was happening to him, and why.
“Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it,” Schneider continued. “Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating? And not from something he would ever know the name of, or understand? Neither he, nor anyone could stop it — no amount of intelligence or love could hold it back.”
Toward the end of May 2014, Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and Schneider said she had felt hopeful because doctors had finally figured out what was wrong. But that turned out to be a false dawn, she added, as she had a sinking feeling that Robin “was not buying” what the doctors had to say.
Another false dawn came on Sunday, August 10, 2014, when Schneider felt her husband was improving, as his “delusional looping was calming down” at that point. The medications seemed to work, and so did the doctors’ advice that the couple sleep in separate rooms. They had had a productive and enjoyable weekend thus far, and everything seemed “perfect.” That Sunday night, the couple said goodnight to each other for what turned out to be the last time, as Robin Williams had hung himself, and was found dead the next morning.
Months after Williams’ death, doctors had revealed that the cause of his Parkinson’s symptoms was LBD, and that his case was one of the worst they had ever seen, and possibly a hopeless case. Schneider believes that no one will ever know whether a timely diagnosis would have saved her husband’s life, but in the end, the “terrorist” that turned out to be LBD would have likely killed him at one point or another.
Schneider concluded her essay by expressing hope that her piece would turn Robin Williams’ suffering in the last months of his life into “something meaningful,” while possibly inspiring people to find a cure for LBD and other related illnesses.
[Featured Image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]