Wife: Robin Williams Had Parkinson's Disease, His Sobriety Intact Before Death

Robin Williams with wife Susan Schneider (Getty Images)
Robin Williams with wife Susan Schneider (Getty Images)

After days of intense speculation about Robin Williams's private struggles in the wake of his suicide, his widow, Susan Schneider, on Thursday made a stunning revelation: the comic had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

“Robin spent so much of his life helping others. Whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film or television, our troops on the frontlines, or comforting a sick child — Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid," Schneider said in a statement released via her husband's publicist. "Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched. His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.

"Robin's sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson's disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly," she continued. "It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

A few hours after Schneider's revelation, Michael J. Fox took to Twitter to respond. Fox, 53, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991, but didn't disclose his condition until seven years later.

Schneider's statement came a day after Williams publicist shot down reports that the genius comic was dealing with financial troubles.

Williams, 63, was found dead in his home in northern California on Monday. He hanged himself.

Meanwhile, the Marin County Sheriff's Office is defending its handling of the case, specifically a press conference in which graphic details were released about Williams's suicide.

"The Sheriff's Office understands how the release of the kind of information you heard Tuesday may be viewed as disturbing by some, and as unnecessary by others, but under California law, all that information is considered 'public information' and we are precluded from denying access to it," Marin Sheriff's Lt. Keith Boyd said in an email to Yahoo on Thursday. "These kinds of cases, whether they garner national attention or not, are very difficult for everyone involved.  Frankly, it would have been our personal preference to withhold a lot of what we disclosed to the press yesterday, but the California Public Records Act does not give us that kind of latitude."

In the coming days, there are more heartbreaking details yet to come.

"For the same reasons, we will likely be required to release to the media the 911 phone call we received from Mr. Williams's residence and the fire dispatch tapes that resulted as well," Boyd continued. "To date, we have received a staggering number of formal Public Act Requests to do so and we are required by law to make those disclosures within 10 days."

Boyd explained their office is looking for a loophole to withhold the tapes, but it isn't likely:

"While we continue working with our County Counsel's Office to determine if there might be an exemption in the Public Records Act that would allow us to withhold those tapes, my past experience has been that there is not and we will once again have to do what the law requires us to do."

During the press conference in question, Boyd revealed that Williams was found "clothed, slightly suspended in a seated position" and unresponsive with a belt around his neck. His left wrist also had several acute superficial wounds thought to be from a pocketknife that was found nearby.

Williams's assistant — who discovered the late actor's body — called 911 and "was distraught and indicated that it was an apparent suicide due to a hanging and that rigor mortis had set in," said Boyd.

Due to online harassment about her father's suicide in the wake of the announcement, Robin's daughter, 25-year-old actress Zelda Williams, had to suspend her social media accounts.

"We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter," Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, said in a statement. "We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users."

Williams was survived by Schneider and three children from two previous marriages, Zelda, Zak, 31, and Cody, 22.

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