It was definitely a major shock and a huge loss when Robin Williams committed suicide back in August 2014. His official cause of death was said to be asphyxia due to hanging, and it was later revealed that he had been suffering with the early states of Parkinson’s disease and that he had also experienced dementia-related hallucinations prior to his suicide. It was all very sad, but now his wife Susan Williams is speaking out, insisting it wasn’t depression that killed her husband, it was a little-known brain condition called Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia or Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).
“It was not depression that killed Robin,” Susan says, speaking to the public perception of what drove Williams to commit suicide. “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms and it was a small one.”
Frequently misdiagnosed, DLB is the second most common neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s and causes fluctuations in mental status, hallucinations and impairment of motor function. The disease started taking its toll on Williams in the last year before his death, by way of its “whack-a-mole”-like symptoms which included heightened levels of anxiety, delusions and impaired movement.
“They present themselves like a pinball machine,” Susan says. “You don’t know exactly what you’re looking at.”
Williams’ symptoms worsened in the months leading up to his death. He experienced crippling anxiety attacks, a “miscalculation” with a door that left his head bloodied and muscle rigidity. And yet still his team of doctors could not pinpoint exactly what was wrong – until the autopsy.
“I know now the doctors, the whole team was doing exactly the right things,” Susan says. “It’s just that this disease was faster than us and bigger than us. We would have gotten there eventually.”
Susan says she hopes that what they’ve been able to learn about Robin’s condition will help others who may be suffering with the disease, as well as helping doctors and scientists understand it further and perhaps find ways to treat it.
Such sad news. Robin seemed like such a wonderfully kind and thoughtful man, and he was certainly a very talented one, so this is heartbreaking.