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Robin Williams, manic comedy star, dead at 63

  • FILE - This 1978 file photo originally released by ABC shows actor Robin Williams on the set of ABCs "Mork and Mindy." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/ABC, File)

    FILE - This 1978 file photo originally released by ABC shows actor Robin Williams on the set of ABCs "Mork and Mindy." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/ABC, File)

  • FILE - This Nov. 18, 2006 file photo shows comedians Robin Williams, from left, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal posing after hoasting "Comic Relief" at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.  (AP Photo/Keith Shimada, File)

    FILE - This Nov. 18, 2006 file photo shows comedians Robin Williams, from left, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal posing after hoasting "Comic Relief" at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/Keith Shimada, File)

  • FILE - This March 27, 2010 file photo shows actor Robin Williams speaking at The 24th American Cinematheque Awards honoring Matt Damon in Beverly Hills, Calif. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.(AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)

    FILE - This March 27, 2010 file photo shows actor Robin Williams speaking at The 24th American Cinematheque Awards honoring Matt Damon in Beverly Hills, Calif. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.(AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)

  • FILE - This 1987 file photo released by Touchstone Pictures shows actor Robin Williams in character as disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer in director Barry Levinsons comedy drama, "Good Morning Vietnam." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/Touchstone Pictures)

    FILE - This 1987 file photo released by Touchstone Pictures shows actor Robin Williams in character as disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer in director Barry Levinsons comedy drama, "Good Morning Vietnam." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/Touchstone Pictures)

  • Cast member Robin Williams arrives at the premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" in Los Angeles on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009.  (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

    Cast member Robin Williams arrives at the premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" in Los Angeles on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

  • FILE - This 1978 file photo originally released by ABC shows actor Robin Williams on the set of ABCs "Mork and Mindy." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/ABC, File)
  • FILE - This Nov. 18, 2006 file photo shows comedians Robin Williams, from left, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal posing after hoasting "Comic Relief" at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.  (AP Photo/Keith Shimada, File)
  • FILE - This March 27, 2010 file photo shows actor Robin Williams speaking at The 24th American Cinematheque Awards honoring Matt Damon in Beverly Hills, Calif. Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.(AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)
  • FILE - This 1987 file photo released by Touchstone Pictures shows actor Robin Williams in character as disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer in director Barry Levinsons comedy drama, "Good Morning Vietnam." Williams, whose free-form comedy and adept impressions dazzled audiences for decades, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The sheriff’s office said a preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia. (AP Photo/Touchstone Pictures)
  • Cast member Robin Williams arrives at the premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" in Los Angeles on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009.  (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, died yesterday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.

Williams was pronounced dead at his San Francisco Bay Area home yesterday, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The sheriff’s office said the preliminary investigation shows the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.

The Marin County coroner’s office said Williams was last seen alive at home at about 10 p.m. Sunday. An emergency call from his house in Tiburon was placed to the sheriff’s department shortly before noon yesterday.

“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” said Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider. “On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Williams had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his press representative. Just last month, he announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse after 20 years of sobriety.

Trying to top the Civil War

From his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show Mork and Mindy, through his standup act and such films as Good Morning, Vietnam, the short, barrel-chested Williams ranted and shouted as if just sprung from solitary confinement. Loud, fast and manic, he parodied everyone from John Wayne to Keith Richards, impersonating a Russian immigrant as easily as a pack of Nazi attack dogs.

He was a riot in drag in Mrs. Doubtfire, or as a cartoon genie in Aladdin. He won his Academy Award in a rare but equally intense dramatic role, as an empathetic therapist in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.

He was no less on fire in interviews. During a 1989 chat with the Associated Press, he could barely stay seated in his hotel room, or even mention the film he was supposed to promote, as he free-associated about comedy and the cosmos.

“There’s an Ice Age coming,” he said. “But the good news is there’ll be daiquiris for everyone and the Ice Capades will be everywhere. The lobster will keep for at least 100 years, that’s the good news. The Swanson dinners will last a whole millennium. The bad news is the house will basically be in Arkansas.”

Following Williams on stage, Billy Crystal once observed, was like trying to top the Civil War. In a 1993 interview with the AP, Williams recalled an appearance early in his career on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Bob Hope was also there.

“It was interesting,” Williams said. “He was supposed to go on before me and I was supposed to follow him, and I had to go on before him because he was late. I don’t think that made him happy. I don’t think he was angry, but I don’t think he was pleased.

“I had been on the road and I came out, you know, gassed, and I killed and had a great time. Hope comes out and Johnny leans over and says, ‘Robin Williams, isn’t he funny?’ Hope says, ‘Yeah, he’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.’ ”

In 1992, Carson chose Williams and Bette Midler as his final guests.

Beyond comedy

Like so many funnymen, Williams had dramatic ambitions. He played for tears in Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and What Dreams May Come, which led New York Times critic Stephen Holden to write that he dreaded seeing the actor’s “Humpty Dumpty grin and crinkly moist eyes.”

But other critics approved, and Williams won three Golden Globes, for Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Fisher King.

His other film credits included Robert Altman’s Popeye (a box office bomb), Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson, Steven Spielberg’s Hook and Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry. On stage, Williams joined fellow comedian Steve Martin in a 1988 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot.

More recently, he appeared in the Night at the Museum movies, playing President Theodore Roosevelt in the comedies in which Ben Stiller’s security guard has to contend with figures that come alive and wreak havoc after a museum closes. The third film in the series is in post-production, according to the Internet Movie Database.

In April, Fox 2000 said it was developing a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire, and Williams was in talks to join the production.

Williams also made a short-lived return to TV last fall in CBS’s The Crazy Ones, a sitcom about a father-daughter ad agency team that co-starred Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was canceled after one season.

‘Rehab in wine country’

His personal life was often short on laughter. He had acknowledged drug and alcohol problems in the 1970s and ’80s and was among the last to see John Belushi before the Saturday Night Live star died of a drug overdose in 1982.

Williams announced in 2006 that he was drinking again but rebounded well enough to joke about it during his recent tour. “I went to rehab in wine country,” he said, “to keep my options open.” The following year, he told the AP that people were surprised he was no longer clean.

“I fell off the wagon after 20 years and people are like, ‘Really?’ Well, yeah. It only kicks in when you really want to change,” he said.

Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams would remember himself as a shy kid who got some early laughs from his mother – by mimicking his grandmother. He opened up more in high school when he joined the drama club, and he was accepted into the Juilliard Academy, where he had several classes in which he and Christopher Reeve were the only students and John Houseman was the teacher.

He unveiled Mork, the alien from the planet Ork, in an appearance on Happy Days and was granted his own series, which ran from 1978 to 1982 and co-starred Pam Dawber as a woman who takes in the interplanetary visitor.

Williams could handle a script, when he felt like it, and also think on his feet. He ad-libbed in many of his films and was just as quick in person. During a media tour for Awakenings, when director Penny Marshall mistakenly described the film as being set in a “menstrual hospital,” instead of “mental hospital,” Williams quickly stepped in and joked, “It’s a period piece.”

Legacy Comments1

O Captain! My Captain! RIP Robin.

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