In 2014, the world was shocked to learn of comedy genius Robin Williams’ death by suicide at age 63. Adding salt to the wound was the heartbreaking news of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and his suffering from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), one of the rarest but most deadly brain conditions. Unbeknownst to fans, Williams began exhibiting symptoms in 2013. One year later, fans, friends, and family of the Good Will Hunting actor would be grieving such a devastating loss.
Williams was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in May 2014. However, upon consultation with a neurologist, Williams was informed that he had neither Alzheimer’s nor was he schizophrenic. In fact, he encountered “nearly all of the 40-plus symptoms of LBD, except for one.” In a piece the actor-comedian’s widow, Susan Schneider, wrote for Neurology, she states her husband never said he had hallucinations. Nevertheless, doctors later noted he might have been concealing symptoms from those close to him, suffering in silence. After Williams’ death, Schneider consulted four doctors who all agreed the case was the “worse pathologies they had seen.”
Susan Schneider Provides Details of William’s Final Years and Raises LBD Awareness
Schneider recalled her husband experiencing what seemed like unrelated symptoms which included:
“constipation, urinary difficulty, heartburn, sleeplessness and insomnia, a poor sense of smell and lots of stress. He also had a slight tremor in his left hand that would come and go.”
In her editorial piece written for Neurology, she noted that his symptoms escalated to problems with paranoia and insomnia. She wrote:
“I experienced my brilliant husband being lucid with clear reasoning 1 minute and then, 5 minutes later blank, lost in confusion.”
According to Schneider, when she and Williams first attended a neurologist’s office
“Robin had a chance to ask some burning questions. He asked, ‘Do I have Alzheimer’s? Dementia? Am I schizophrenic?’ The answers were the best we could have gotten: No, no, no. There were no indications of these other diseases. It is apparent to me now that he was most likely keeping the depth of his symptoms to himself.”
Williams’ autopsy report found changes in his brain that are characteristic of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These changes had an impact on his behavior in the days leading up to his death, but his wife, Susan, had revealed that the comedian seemed fine the night before his death. Thus, his suicide the next day came as a shock. In the 2020 Robin’s Wish documentary, Dr. Bruce Miller from the University of California, San Francisco stated that Williams’ case was so severe that “it really amazed me that Robin could walk or move at all.”
Susan Schneider also wrote that the “massive proliferation of Lewy bodies throughout William’s brain had done so much damage to neurons and neurotransmitters that you can say he had chemical warfare in his brain.” She now serves on the Board of Directors of the American Brain Foundation and works to raise awareness about the neurological disorder that took her husband’s life.