Robin Williams was ‘frustrated’ by Parkinson’s disease misdiagnosis before his death

Williams took his own life in 2014 (Picture: Vera Anderson/WireImage)

Robin Williams’ son has shared the ‘frustration’ his father suffered in relation to his neurodegenerative illness, on what would have been the star’s 70th birthday.

Comedy legend Williams took his own life in 2014 at the age of 63, having suffered severe depression.

While he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease prior to his death, this was a misdiagnosis, and an autopsy found that he had been suffering from Lewy body disease, a form of dementia.

Ahead of what would have been Williams’ 70th birthday on July 21, his son Zak sat down with Max Lugavere for his podcast The Genius Life, with both he and Lugavere having a parent who suffered with dementia with Lewy bodies.

Zak said that his father was ‘frustrated’ by his misdiagnosis, saying: ‘What I saw was frustration. What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with what] many Parkinson’s patients experience. So, I think that was hard for him.

‘There was a focus issue that frustrated him, there were issues associated with how he felt and also from a neurological perspective he didn’t feel great. He was very uncomfortable.’

Zak suggested that the medicine the Mrs Doubtfire actor was prescribed did more harm than good due to the misdiagnosis, saying: ‘Those drugs are no joke. They’re also really hard on the mind and the body.’

He added that Williams struggled with ‘challenges performing his craft’, as Lewy body dementia affected his thinking, memory and movement control.

Zak saw his father’s frustration (Picture: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Timo Wallets LLC)

Zak said: ‘I couldn’t help but feel beyond empathy. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated for him. It can be really isolating even when you’re with family and loved ones.’

Williams symptoms intensified in the two years before his death, with his son – who now works as a mental health advocate – saying: ‘It was a… I don’t want to say it was a short period. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because it was a period for him of intense searching and frustration.’

After Williams’ suicide in August 2014, both his widow Susan Schneider Williams and medical experts attributed his death to Lewy body disease.

In an essay for Neurology.org, Susan referred to the disease as a ‘terrorist’ inside her husband’s brain, noting that he had suffered all but one symptom of Lewy body disease, including anxiety, depression, insomnia and tremors. 

She wrote: ‘I met with medical professionals who had reviewed Robin’s last 2 years of medical records, the coroner’s report, and brain scans. Their reactions were all the same: that Robin’s was one of the worst LBD pathologies they had seen and that there was nothing else anyone could have done. Our entire medical team was on the right track and we would have gotten there eventually. In fact, we were probably close.

More: Mental health

‘But would having a diagnosis while he was alive really have made a difference when there is no cure? We will never know the answer to this. I am not convinced that the knowledge would have done much more than prolong Robin’s agony while he would surely become one of the most famous test subjects of new medicines and ongoing medical trials. Even if we experienced some level of comfort in knowing the name, and fleeting hope from temporary comfort with medications, the terrorist was still going to kill him. There is no cure and Robin’s steep and rapid decline was assured.

‘The massive proliferation of Lewy bodies throughout his brain had done so much damage to neurons and neurotransmitters that in effect, you could say he had chemical warfare in his brain.

One professional stated, “It was as if he had cancer throughout every organ of his body.” The key problem seemed to be that no one could correctly interpret Robin’s symptoms in time.’

Oscar winner Williams was one of the most beloved comedy and dramatic actors of his generation, thanks to legendary roles in films like Good Will Hunting, Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji and Dead Poets Society. 


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