This Beloved Comedian Had Dementia, and Nobody Even Realized ItMatthew M. Sullivan
On August 11, 2014, Robin Williams tragically lost his life to suicide. The world grieved the loss of the beloved comedian and talented actor, and people initiated conversations about mental illnesses like depression. But recently, his widow, Susan has spoken out about what truly compelled him to end his life: Lewy body dementia (LBD).
LBD is one of the most common forms of dementia. In it, proteins called lewy bodies build up in the brain. This is accompanied by an array of symptoms like hallucinations, tremors, dizziness, memory loss, and general cognitive decline. Though LBD is incredibly common, it’s not well understood. It’s often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s; sometimes a diagnosis isn’t even made until post-mortem, when doctors can conduct an autopsy.
This was the case with Williams. The condition was diagnosed as Parkinson’s, but he still knew that something else was terribly awry; his anxiety spiked, he had hallucinations, and a “miscalculation” made him walk into a door and injure his head. There was a smorgasbord of symptoms striking him. He just didn’t know what was going on—nor did anyone else. According to Susan Williams, that was what compelled him to take his life. And he did so shortly before he was to undergo neurocognitive tests.
“He was keeping it together the best that he could, but the last month he could not,” said Williams. “It’s like the dam broke.”
Suicide, she insists, was a way for him to regain control of his life.
“People in passing…would say to me, ‘God, I wish I had done something more for him. If only I had called him.’ And I’m thinking, ‘No one could have done anything more for Robin.’ I just want everyone to know that. Everyone did the very best they could,” she said.
She hopes that her experiences and knowledge will benefit others with LBD.
“This disease is like a sea monster with 50 tentacles of symptoms that show when they want. It’s chemical warfare in the brain.”
To learn more, check out this interview she had with ABC News.