Posts Tagged ‘Robin Williams’

mork

 

When Robin Williams killed himself in August 2014, depression was considered the culprit.

But the beloved film star and comedian was in fact struggling with a demon even more sinister: Lewy body dementia, a little-known and often misdiagnosed disease that manifests as a combination of the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Williams, shared this diagnosis, which was revealed in an autopsy, Tuesday in an interview with People magazine and ABC.

A few days after Williams’ death, his media representative, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement: “He has been battling severe depression of late.”

rubberNow we know that wasn’t the full story: “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms, and it was a small one,” Susan Williams said Tuesday, in her first public interview since her husband’s death.

Lewy body dementia, she said, “was what was going on inside his brain, the chemical warfare that no one knew about.”

And even if the 63-year-old had not ended his own life, the disease would have killed him within a few years, she said.

Lewy body dementia usually strikes at age 50 or later. Like Parkinson’s, it begins with abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies, which disrupt brain cells’ normal functioning and later cause them to die. The disease’s plethora of terrifying symptoms start slowly but worsen over time, and include: Alzheimer’s-like memory loss and dementia; Parkinson’s-like tremors and loss of balance; and terrifying, schizophrenia-like hallucinations. The symptoms “present themselves like a pinball machine,” Susan Williams said. “You don’t know exactly what you’re looking at.” Perhaps worst of all, at least at first, the patient can be fully aware of his or her own decline.

After it is diagnosed, Lewy body dementia usually kills a person within five to seven years. There is no cure or effective treatment.

Despite the fact that it is little known, Lewy body dementia is not rare; in fact, it is one of the most common forms of dementia, affecting more than 1 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Ageing. But because it bears many similarities to other degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it is frequently misdiagnosed. It can take more than a year and visits with multiple specialists to get a correct diagnosis. According to Susan Williams, a coroner’s report revealed signs of Lewy body dementia, as well as early-stage Parkinson’s.

Although Williams didn’t know he was suffering from Lewy body dementia, he seemed to know he was losing his mind.

“He was aware of it,” Susan Williams said. In her opinion, she told People and ABC, his suicide was his way of taking control of an impossible situation. “He was just saying no,” she said. “And I don’t blame him one bit.”

The news may reignite the ongoing debate about “dying with dignity”. For a man of the intellectual and emotional depth of Robin Williams, the perception – even if not yet formally diagnosed – that he was losing his cognitive function would have been unbearable. Especially as we know he had concerns that his career was faltering and he faced certain financial pressures.

It may be that depression contributed to his death, or it may be that it was a carefully-considered and rational response to an awful situation that he felt would only get worse. As his wife says: “taking control”.

We will never know, but it is something to ponder … It is also worth considering that a different cultural response to chronic illness and dying might have encouraged him to hang around a little longer, and to end his life more gently, in the bosom of his family, with the people around him given an opportunity to say goodbye.

Again, we will never know.

(Slate and others)

 

Robin Williams

The world has woken up today to the loss of one of the finest comedic talents of his generation – perhaps, of any generation – and the outpouring of words will no doubt be liken unto an avalanche.

We do not propose to add to them to any great extent, if for no other reason that others will do a better job.

But not to mark Robin Williams’ passing would be to do the man a dis-service. This is a day for many in the world to pause, and to remember a great man who gave freely to all of us of his hugely generous heart. And also to contemplate sadly the persistence, the common-ness, the vile pressure of this scourge of an illness which has now stripped him from us and which ruins so many lives, and touches uncountable others.

For him to apparently take his own life – yet another high-profile victim of depression, which afflicts so many of those creative souls who truly see into the world with clear eyes – is the ultimate cruel irony. A life spent making untold millions laugh, snuffed out in a moment of existential hollowness and hopelessness. And a life capped by triumphantly fighting a battle against addiction – so often the fellow traveller with depression – that was lost when he was determinedly sober. This is a bitter, bitter day.

For a man who gave the world so much, he will, like many others, be tragically defined to some degree by the nature of his death. His wife has already pleaded that it not be so, but it is inevitable. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

For the rest of us, whether battling depression or not, we are today surely reminded of the most powerful call to celebrate life – to seize life by the lapels and give it a great shake – that he ever delivered in his multi-faceted and endlessly inspiring career. He is delivering the lines of a writer, to be sure, but he was surely also speaking for himself. See it in his eyes.

Carpe Diem.

 

Amen.