Robin Williams: The Family He Leaves Behind

Susan Schneider, Robin Williams, and Zelda Williams attend the 'Happy Feet Two' premiere in 2011 (Getty Images)
Susan Schneider, Robin Williams, and Zelda Williams attend the 'Happy Feet Two' premiere in 2011 (Getty Images)

Updated at 5:15 p.m. PST

The world lost a comedic genius on Monday, but for many, Robin Williams was so much more: a friend, a husband, a father.

Authorities are investigating the death, but initial evidence points to "a suicide due to asphyxia," according to Marin Sheriff's Lt. Keith Boyle. An autopsy took place earlier Tuesday but the results weren't immediately disclosed.

Williams, who was 63, is survived by his third wife, Susan Schneider, and three adult children from two earlier marriages: daughter Zelda, 25, and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 22.

While Williams publicly spoke about his battles with substance abuse and depression, he was equally as open when professing the love he had for his children. From day one, his kids came first, and he was open about the unconventional nature of his personal situation from the beginning.

In 1988, People profiled Williams, 35 at the time, in a feature titled, "A Comic's Crisis of the Heart." While the comedian had never been hotter professionally, personally he was struggling between the two loves of his life, his wife of nine years, Valerie Velardi Williams, 36, and their nanny, Marsha Garces, with whom he had a passionate affair.

One year prior, Valerie and Robin signed a private, out-of-court separation agreement that provided shared custody of their son, Zachary. Robin credited his first child with helping him to get sober, inspiring him to kick cocaine cold turkey six months before he was born.

"I knew I couldn't be a father and live that sort of life," Williams said. "He's just wonderful… The most sobering and wonderful thing in my life."

Robin Williams dances with Valerie Velardi, at Studio 54 in 1979 (AP Photo)
Robin Williams dances with Valerie Velardi, at Studio 54 in 1979 (AP Photo)

As the actor tried to balance a relationship with Valerie and Marsha, he made it clear that his son was his first priority.

"He's amazingly adaptive," Robin told the magazine, "and we all try hard to make the arrangement work. We all love Zachary, and Zachary loves us all. Also, we're all in therapy, and that's helped a lot — Jesus, I should get a discount! Valerie and I have a good understanding too. The separation was difficult, but it was also gentle. Better to do that than to go at each other's throats."

Valerie agreed: "Robin has been conducting himself very well… We're acting together in Zak's interest. We separated to reexamine our lives. It's a time for personal growth for both of us."

"What I'm trying to do now," Robin said, "is to work with Valerie to transform our marriage into a relationship in which we share Zachary and do all we can to make him happy. I expect my involvement with Valerie to go on until I die."

The following year, Robin Williams wed Garces. They went on to add two children to their blended family, Zelda and Cody.

After 20 years of sobriety, Williams relapsed and entered rehab in 2006 for alcoholism. A rep for the actor said at the time Robin "found himself drinking again and has decided to take proactive measures to deal with this for his own well-being and the well-being of his family."

Robin Williams (right) with wife Marsha (3rd from left) and children Cody, Zachary, and Zelda (Getty Images)
Robin Williams (right) with wife Marsha (3rd from left) and children Cody, Zachary, and Zelda (Getty Images)

"One day I walked into a store and saw a little bottle of Jack Daniel's. And then that voice — I call it the 'lower power' — goes, 'Hey. Just a taste. Just one,'" Williams recounted years later to Parade. "I drank it, and there was that brief moment of, 'Oh, I’m OK!' But it escalated so quickly. Within a week I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street. I knew it was really bad one Thanksgiving when I was so drunk they had to take me upstairs."

That's when his family stepped in: "It was not an intervention so much as an ultimatum. Everyone kind of said, 'You’ve got to do this.' And I went, 'Yeah, you're right.'"

Without going into detail, the Zak told The New York Times of his father’s rehab stint, "There was an ultimatum attached to it. I'm pretty confident that if he continued drinking, he would not be alive today."

During a sit down with Diane Sawyer after he completed rehab in 2006, it was clear his kids were a factor in his decision to seek help. The journalist asked Robin if he could go back and relive any day in his life, what it would be.

"Just the birth of my children," Williams replied. "Each one. Those are all great days and they've all turned out amazing… that's the gift that keeps on giving, and that's the thing that makes life worth living. That's why you want a world, you want to make the world a better place."

Although Robin cleaned himself up, his relationship with Marsha never quite recovered. They quietly separated in 2007, and by March of the following year she filed a divorce petition to end their 19-year marriage, citing irreconcilable differences.

People reported at the time that after his relapse, "the trust was broken." However, the split was supposedly amicable. Marsha stayed in their San Francisco home with Cody while Robin moved to Marin County. Meanwhile, Zelda moved to Hollywood to pursue acting.

"It wasn't a complete surprise," Zelda, 18 at the time, told the magazine. "It's never easy to end. [But] there's no bitterness — we're all a family… I just want my parents to be happy."

During that same interview in 2008, Zelda also discussed the state of her relationship with her father.

"He wasn't around a lot when I was a kid but I have the wonderful opportunity to get to know him now," she explained. "He's taking more of a break. He's not doing four films a year; he's doing one or two.... Now he has more time for us.”

Zelda with her father, Robin Williams (Getty Images)
Zelda with her father, Robin Williams (Getty Images)

While promoting his film World’s Greatest Dad in 2009, Williams echoed similar sentiments.

"And am I the 'world's greatest dad?' Not at all, I'm a work-in-progress, but I love them," Robin told Reuters. "I'm so proud of them in different ways, but have they always been cherubs? No, but that's been part of the process."

Williams said his addiction struggles gave his three children a ready response when he questioned them about their behavior.

"They went, 'And you had a three-year drunken relapse.' Ah, thank you for bringing that back, my little happy creatures,” the actor quipped.

While Robin made more time for his kids, he also found love again. The actor met graphic designer Susan Schneider outside of an Apple Store and they were married in October 2011.

"We were both looking for weird technology and our eyes met and we just got married last month, which, given my track record, is a bit like bringing a burns victim to a fireworks display," Williams said in an interview with The Telegraph that November.

In typical Robin candor, he joked about his previous two divorces. "Ah yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet" — but said there was no ill will: "I get on fabulously with my exes — now we're not together any more. And they always appreciated my body hair, which was a plus, obviously."

Williams also revealed that he was looking forward to (hopefully) being a grandfather, now that his oldest son Zak had gotten married.

"I plan on being a sweet, forgetful, 'Oh God, where's the baby? What have I done with the baby?' sort of grandfather," he laughed to the U.K. outlet. "I love kids, but they are a tough audience. When I used to read to Zelda in thrilling accents and act out the stories, she would sigh and tell me to give it a rest and read in a normal voice."

In recent years, the actor has still beamed with pride about all three of his kids.

During an interview to promote his TV show The Crazy Ones in September 2013, he was clearly crazy about his kids.

"I worked with my daughter in a movie and it was amazing because literally — it was her first movie — she was 14, the director came up to her, David Duchovny, and wanted to try something she said, 'I think that's a good idea, but I don't think my character would do that,'" he laughed. "I went, '14 [fist pump motion] way to go!' I'm so proud of her in terms of making her way as an actress and also as a writer.

"My oldest son is married, and my youngest son is producing music," Williams gushed. "You just watch them, and watch them go through changes and it's quite amazing. I didn't graduate from college, I went to Juilliard, but I never graduated. When [Zachary] graduated from NYU it was such a huge day, and then when he got an MBA from Columbia — I've been pimping him enough now — but the idea, there was just such pride in him and what he did. It was huge for me."

Robin's love for his children was clear to the very end.

In his last post to Instagram and Twitter he wished Zelda a happy 25th birthday: "#tbt and Happy Birthday to Ms. Zelda Rae Williams! Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl. Happy Birthday @zeldawilliams Love you!"

Zelda broke her silence on Twitter Monday night, posting a heartfelt quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's book The Little Prince.

Robin's wife Susan also released the following statement:

"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. 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."

On Tuesday, the rest of his family members issued personal statements of their own:

"Yesterday, I lost my father and a best friend and the world got a little grayer. I will carry his heart with me every day. I would ask those that loved him to remember him by being as gentle, kind, and generous as he would be. Seek to bring joy to the world as he sought."
- Zak Williams

"My family has always been private about our time spent together. It was our way of keeping one thing that was ours, with a man we shared with an entire world. But now that's gone, and I feel stripped bare. My last day with him was his birthday, and I will be forever grateful that my brothers and I got to spend that time alone with him, sharing gifts and laughter. He was always warm, even in his darkest moments. While I'll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, there's minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions. It doesn't help the pain, but at least it's a burden countless others now know we carry, and so many have offered to help lighten the load. Thank you for that.

"To those he touched who are sending kind words, know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh. As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to your house to poop on your car. Right after you’ve had it washed. After all, he loved to laugh too…

"Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls I've ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We'll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again."
- Zelda Williams

"There are no words strong enough to describe the love and respect I have for my father. The world will never be the same without him. I will miss him and take him with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life, and will look forward, forever, to the moment when I get to see him again."
- Cody Williams
"My heart is split wide open and scattered over the planet with all of you. Please remember the gentle, loving, generous — and yes, brilliant and funny — man that was Robin Williams. My arms are wrapped around our children as we attempt to grapple with celebrating the man we love, while dealing with this immeasurable loss."
- Marsha Garces Williams

The Legendary Career of Robin Williams:

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