Robin Williams masked depression with veil of comedy: friends

Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:39pm EDT
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - From an eccentric alien to an animated blue genie, a loveable British nanny and a fatherly therapist, actor Robin Williams used his multi-layered brand of comedy to make people laugh.

But behind the boyish exuberance and hyperactive energy was a sensitive man who lived to perform in front of a crowd, friends and colleagues of the actor said following his death from an apparent suicide on Monday.

While the Oscar-winner's death came as a bolt from the blue to the public, the actor's longtime friend and fellow comedian Bob Zmuda said he was not "totally shocked" by the news.

Zmuda, the founder of the charity Comic Relief for which the actor had helped raise more than $70 million, said that Williams had difficulty connecting with people off-stage and that even those who knew him well were unaware of how severe his depression was.

"Sometimes I would meet him one-on-one, he would be so uncomfortable, he really had no social skills, and that's probably one of the reasons he needed to be on stage," Zmuda said. "That was his life blood, that was his psychological imperative, and without that, he was pretty lost."

Budd Friedman, the founder of The Improv comedy clubs, last saw Williams about a year ago when the actor dropped by a club to perform a short routine. Friedman said in the 35 years he had known Williams, he had never seen any glimpse of his suffering.

"I don't know too many people who were that aware of that darkness in him," Friedman said.

Hours after Williams died on Monday, his representative Mara Buxbaum revealed, with unusual candor by Hollywood standards, that the actor and comedian had suffered from severe depression in recent months.   Continued...

Actor Robin Williams pays tribute to actor Matt Damon during the 24th American Cinematheque Award benefit gala in Beverly Hills, California March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas