Robin William's Brain Reveals Crippling, Exotic Disease
Robin Williams had the unique ability to be both captivating and controversial at the same time.
While some conservatives may have frowned at his open problems with cocaine and alcohol or his often adult brand of humor, it’s hard to find any American who didn’t enjoy the actor and comedian in at least one iconic role during his nearly four-decade long career.
The untimely suicide of Williams in 2014 saddened the country, and many people wondered how a man who seemed so energetic, positive and enthusiastic about living could take his own life.
Now, we may have some answers. Last year, Williams’ wife Susan Schneider Williams opened up about the mental and physical problems her late husband faced, and it’s an important reminder about paying attention to those who may be quietly suffering around us.
“As you may know, my husband Robin Williams had the little-known but deadly Lewy body disease (LBD),” Susan Williams wrote in an article for the American Academy of Neurology.
Lew body disease is a type of dementia that occurs when abnormal structures build up in parts of the brain. Even if doctors had been able to detect this while Williams was alive, they would not have been able to cure him.
“He died from suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing, and relatively swift persecution at the hand of this disease’s symptoms and pathology. He was not alone in his traumatic experience with this neurologic disease,” she continued. “As you may know, almost 1.5 million nationwide are suffering similarly right now.”
Robin Williams had previously been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but this determination turned out to be wrong.
“Not until the coroner’s report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him,” his wife explained. “All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen.”
That mis-diagnosis would prove to be a serious contributing factor in the actor’s tragic spiral into depression and despair.
“In early April, Robin had a panic attack. He was in Vancouver, filming Night at the Museum 3. His doctor recommended an antipsychotic medication to help with the anxiety,” Susan wrote.
“Not until after he left us would I discover that antipsychotic medications often make things worse for people with LBD. Also, Robin had a high sensitivity to medications and sometimes his reactions were unpredictable. This is apparently a common theme in people with LBD.”
“Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. 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?” Williams continued about her husband.
Doctors continued to treat Robin’s health problems as if he had Parkinson’s disease, but he continued to decline. The once witty comedian slipped deeper into a fog of confusion and delusion.
“It felt like he was drowning in his symptoms, and I was drowning along with him. Typically the plethora of LBD symptoms appear and disappear at random times—even throughout the course of a day,” his wife wrote. “I experienced my brilliant husband being lucid with clear reasoning 1 minute and then, 5 minutes later, blank, lost in confusion.”
Then, after a weekend with his wife, he took his own life. The country was saddened and shocked, but of course the deepest impact was made on his close family and friends.
Now, Susan is sharing her story in order to inspire doctors to continue pushing their research… and to encourage other people to understand more about Lewy body disease and the fight to find a cure.
“If only Robin could have met you,” Susan wrote to the physicians reading the medical journal.
“He would have loved you—not just because he was a genius and enjoyed science and discovery, but because he would have found a lot of material within your work to use in entertaining his audiences, including the troops,” she continued.
“In fact, the most repeat character role he played throughout his career was a doctor, albeit different forms of practice.”
Doctors may still be years away from vanquishing this disease of the body, but the actor made an impact on many people’s souls. If laughter truly is the best medicine, then Robin Williams deserves an honorary M.D.
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