Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 1, 2020

Robin’s Wish

Filed under: Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

I am not a great Robin Williams fan and even found his most interesting performances done against type such as the psychopath in “One Hour Photo”. When I learned that a documentary about his death titled “Robin’s Wish” was premiering today on Amazon Prime and the spanking new Google Play, I requested a screener. Whatever qualms I had about his skills as a comedian or an actor gave way to the sympathy I had for a man cursed by Lewy Body Dementia, an illness that combines the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. It is a miracle that he didn’t take his life sooner given the suffering he endured.

With generous excerpts from his scripted and improvised performances, you have to give him credit for being possibly the most versatile talent of the past half-century. We learn from the film that he entered Julliard mostly to become a serious actor. When it became difficult for him to land the kind of roles he sought, he began doing standup just to pay the rent.

Unquestionably, his brain was remarkably endowed with an ability to improvise on the spot, using words like a bebop musician uses notes. That brain also allowed him to easily slip into different characters even though it was hard not to see Robin Williams’s unique persona at their core.

By 2013, it was becoming obvious to many people, especially his wife whose interviews are the thread that connect all the shifting episodes in the film, that he was ill. One of the first signs was a trembling left hand that he tried to conceal in a pocket. When the couple first went to a neurologist, the diagnosis did not seem so bad. He had Parkinson’s, which specialists view as a disease that might take at least ten years to leave the patient incapacitated. However, in a small minority of cases, a disease called Lewy Body Dementia sets in. The film relies on Williams’s wife, co-workers and friends (including Mort Sahl, who is still alive at 93) for reflections on his decline as well as medical specialists.

When the media first reported on his suicide by hanging on August 11, 2014, there were rumors that he suffered from depression. Indeed, he did suffer from depression and substance abuse all his life—like his good friend John Belushi—but it was the Lewy Body Dementia that made him decide to take his own life.

It was only after his death that the cause of his suicide was revealed. An autopsy revealed that he had the most advanced case of Lewy Body Dementia they’d ever seen. In the press notes, his wife Susan Schneider Williams, who brought him great happiness after they were married in 2011, explains why the film was made:

During the last year of his life, Robin was confronted with anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, scary  altered realities and a roller coaster of hope and despair. With our medical team’s care we  chased a relentless parade of symptoms but with very little gain. It wasn’t until after Robin’s  passing, in autopsy, that the source of his terror was revealed: he had diffuse Lewy body disease. It was one of the worst cases medical professionals had seen.

Armed with the name of a brain disease I’d never heard of, I set out on a mission to  understand it, and that led me down my unchosen path of advocacy. With invaluable help  from leading medical experts, I saw that what Robin and I had gone through, finally made  sense — our experience matched up with the science. And what I discovered along the way  was bigger than me, and bigger than Robin. The full story was revealed during the making of  this film and it holds the truth that Robin and I had been searching for.

2 Comments »

  1. I encountered Williams walking south on Broadway on the Upper West Side a few years before he committed suicide, and I’ve never seen a celebrity in public more willing to interact with the adoring masses. He allowed one person after another to take selfies with him while asking them questions about their lives. Sweet guy.

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — September 2, 2020 @ 1:02 am

  2. This is a wonderful sympathetic article on Robin, and richly deserved. Besides being a wonderful actor and entertainer he was also extremely generous with his time and money for people and causes he identified.

    Comment by john levin — September 2, 2020 @ 7:16 pm


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