Robin Williams | 1951 - 2014

A major, major loss

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In a shocking development, Oscar-winning actor/comic Robin Williams was found dead in his California home Monday, a possible suicide, according to investigators. He was 63.

The Marin County Sheriff's Office said Williams was found unconscious and not breathing inside his home in Tiburon, Calif., around noon local time, and was pronounced dead shortly after. Tiburon is across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco.

The sheriff's press release identified him by his full name, Robin McLaurin Williams.

The county coroner suspects the death was "a suicide due to asphyxia," which could mean death by hanging. But a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made; an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, the press release said.

Williams' rep confirmed the death to USA TODAY.

"Robin Williams passed away this morning," said Mara Buxbaum, president of his PR firm. "He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."

His wife, Susan Schneider, issued a brief 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," she said.

The news of his death sent shock waves through Hollywood and the nation, and prompted an outpouring of grieving tweets and statements from everyone from the president of the United States to the Sesame Street gang.

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"Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between," President Obama said in a statement. "But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin's family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams."

WATCH: 5 great scenes from movies starring Robin Williams

CNN reported a statement from Pam Dawber, Williams' co-star in the wacky Mork & Mindy of the late 1970s, which introduced Williams to an amazed nation. "I am completely and totally devastated. What more can be said?!" Dawber said.

"We mourn the loss of our friend Robin Williams, who always made us laugh and smile," the Sesame Street tweet read.

"I saw him on stage the very first time he auditioned at The Improv in Los Angeles," said Jay Leno in a statement. "And we have been friends ever since. It's a very sad day."

Williams' last tweet and Instagram was on July 31, when he wished his daughter, Zelda Rae, a happy 25th birthday and posted a picture of himself with her as a child. "Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl," he captioned the photo.

In San Francisco, where Williams for a while lived in the fog-shrouded oceanside Sea Cliff neighborhood, residents were shocked and saddened.

"He seemed like a good San Franciscan," said Griff Behncke, 35, who was waiting to take the ferry ride back to Sausalito, near Tiburon. He remembers Williams donating blood after the 9/11 terror attacks, and then entertaining the long line of people waiting to donate.

Williams will reprise his role as Theodore Roosevelt in the third Night at the Museum film. Fox issued a statement, according to Entertainment Weekly.

"There really are no words to describe the loss of Robin Williams. He was immensely talented, a cherished member of our community, and part of the Fox family. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and fans. He will be deeply missed."

Williams, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting, also recently signed on to reprise his beloved role as Mrs. Doubtfire in a sequel to be directed by Chris Columbus, according to EW.

Williams has battled health problems and struggled with substance abuse for decades. Only last month he went into rehab at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota, and was expected to stay there for several weeks.

Shocking news

Conan's audience shocked by news

It was near the end of the taping of his Monday night show when Conan O'Brien got the shocking news of Robin Williams' sudden death.

O'Brien was stunned. His sidekick on Conan, Andy Richter, was stunned. And his guest for the night, Will Arnett, was stunned.

Soon, the audience was stunned too, as O'Brien broke the news to them, apologizing for having to do it.

"This is absolutely shocking and horrifying and so upsetting on every level, and we're at the end of the show and it felt like it needed to be acknowledged," O'Brien said. "We're absolutely stunned to get this news."

"He was an amazingly kind and generous person and our thoughts go out to his family," said Richter.

"As funny as he was, he was even better as a person, he was one of the loveliest and sweetest and kindest guys I've ever worked with," added Arnett. "It's a major, major loss for everybody."

Lasting impression

An informal chat with Robin


Bill Keveney, USA Today

I have a fond memory of my interview with Robin Williams last year on the set of his CBS comedy, The Crazy Ones.

It wasn't the funny voices, although he delivered them: William F. Buckley, Christopher Walken and a spot-on Jack Nicholson calling him "Robbo." It wasn't the brilliant way he improvised a Tennessee Williams tragedy out of a four-word stage direction: "As they sashay out." ("Ahm going taw'd the light lahk a honey bee to a bug zappah," he said, sauntering across the set like a shattered Southern belle.)

Although those were definitely entertaining, my enduring memory is simply that Williams, who died Monday, came over to talk to me, a reporter, when he didn't have to.

On the set of 'The Crazy Ones,' Williams thoughtfully answered questions and offered a few choice characterizations. Reporter Bill Keveney, who interviewed him here, says the comedian wasn't the stereotypical star. USA TODAY

In my experience, on-set interviews tend toward formality. The reporter gets to watch an actor perform a scene and conducts a short interview during a break in shooting. The transaction is cordial, but frequently it is the only conversation with an actor who may be busy memorizing lines, tending to other matters or simply not be in the mood to talk off the cuff with a reporter during a long work day.

So, I remember when an actor takes time to chat informally, perhaps a little more so when it happens to be an Oscar winner. Williams happened by during a couple of breaks, definitely not acting like a stereotypical star, and we ended up in conversation. It wasn't anything deep. We talked about the weather in Los Angeles, where Crazy Ones was filming, and about him wishing he were home in Northern California, where both he and executive producer David E. Kelley lived. At one point, he joked: "He gets to go home every weekend. I'm like, 'Yeah, take me with you.' "

At one point, I told him about an earlier meeting. Years ago, I was watching a comic perform at a San Francisco comedy club when an unseen heckler interrupted his act. It quickly went from annoying to hilarious, as the interloper demonstrated his superiority in the comic arts. It was Williams, of course. He stayed late, talking to fans on the sidewalk, including me. When I told him this story, he seemed more focused on figuring out which club it was than at my delight over the incident. But then, this was my brush-with-fame story, not his.

Williams was funny during the formal interview, although he wasn't "on," as many fans might think would be the permanent state of a man known for non-stop comic energy. The videographer working with me, expecting some of that trademark animated frenzy, noted that he seemed subdued. I think it may have been evidence of the demands of heading your own comedy series, heavy work for someone in their 30s, let alone 60s.

Williams was straightforward with his answers, using comedy as a spice but not the main ingredient. He saw similarities between his Crazy Ones character, a brilliant but eccentric ad executive, and himself: "I think he's had a very interesting life, multiple marriages, rehab. He's an idea guy trying to be relevant in these times."

I was hoping he would do some of his character voices and impressions, but I didn't want to make it seem like I was looking for a trained-seal act. He complied, offering a few choice characterizations.

When asked about people expecting him to be funny, he said, "Once a woman in an airport came up and said, 'Be zany.' It was so weird. It was almost like, 'Dance for me.' I just went, 'I can't, ma'am. I'm sorry. This is my day off.' "

He continued: "There's times when people are very sweet and you'll do something funny, but there's other times when they'll be like, 'Do it.' It's like, 'I'm not always that way. I can't.' It's quiet times, too."

He said he first realized he might have a talent for voices when he was a student. "I did an impression of a teacher when I was in high school. I think that's the first time I realized I could actually do impressions or do other people. And it was the first moment of, 'Oh, this is interesting!' "

His favorite movie voice was Genie from Aladdin "because it was like 32 different voices." His favorite acting role was in Awakenings, where he felt the influence of Oliver Sacks, "this extraordinary man who introduced me to the whole idea that the brain is this incredible organ and all the different aspects of it."

I enjoyed the interview and his thoughtful answers. Mostly, however, I'll remember two guys just chatting about the weather.

A comic genius

Beloved by several generations

Claudia Puig, USA Today

Known for his preternatural performance agility, lightning-fast impressions and malleable voice, Robin Williams was a versatile actor beloved by several generations.

Fun-loving as he seemed, he also was a deeply disciplined actor ever in search of challenge and complicated roles.

Those fans and the Hollywood community were in mourning Monday after the Oscar-winning actor/comic was found dead in his Northern California home, a possible suicide, according to investigators. He was 63.

Baby boomers first became acquainted with him in 1978 as Mork, TV's lovable clownish alien in rainbow-colored suspenders on the Mork & Mindy sitcom.

The characters Robin Williams brought to life will live in our hearts forever.

Williams started out doing improvisational stand-up comedy in the late '70, and those witty reflexes, honed early, made him singular in his comic brilliance. Yet it was his prodigious intelligence, ferocious intensity and charismatic, maniacal and razor-sharp wit — which sometimes seemed to tread on the edge of sanity — that allowed him to reach into the heart of a character in his varied and impressive dramatic roles.

His breakout role in film, an edgy Vietnam War-era DJ in 1987'sGood Morning, Vietnam, confirmed his massive likability and spot-on comic timing.

His appeal was one of the broadest among contemporary Hollywood actors. He could play an earnest English professor in Dead Poets Society and a benevolent nanny inMrs. Doubtfire with equal aplomb. As the quick-witted genie inAladdin, he easily stole the 1992 movie and won the hearts of the youngest audience members.

He was one of the rare actors who was able to transcend his comic origins and be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. Indeed, he was widely admired in Hollywood, receiving the ultimate honor from his peers, an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1997's Good Will Hunting.

He excelled at playing energetic teachers, the kind we wish we'd had in school, but he was equally adept at playing characters on the edge of lunacy, such as the homeless philosopher in The Fisher King.

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Among his 70 movies, he made some bad choices in material.Patch Adams, Popeye and Hook were clunkers, but Williams was indefatigable, always striving for singularly intriguing performances. He worked with some of the industry's most challenging and artistic directors, including Terry Gilliam, Robert Altman and Woody Allen, while still taking roles in more predictable blockbusters that are actors' bread and butter.

Some of his best performances were his darkest roles. His disturbing portrayal of an obsessed loner in 2002's One Hour Photo was eerie and indelible, and that same year he starred as a villainous crime novelist in the taut thriller Insomnia.

His loony-jolly characters were fan favorites, however, perhaps because they were inspired by similarly offbeat comedians. Among those he admired most: Jonathan Winters, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Gleason and Bill Cosby.

"You're only given a little spark of madness, you mustn't lose it,'' he once said.

When he hit his late 50s and early 60s, Williams had deftly played presidents, most recently Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2013's The Butler and also Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies.

In the last decade, Williams seemed drawn to even more offbeat and provocative roles. Ironically for a man who could easily make audiences laugh hysterically, his serious, darker characters might have left the most indelible impression of all.

The man dubbed the "funniest man alive" byEntertainment Weekly in 1997 battled depression and his familiarity with pain and suffering no doubt informed his roles. Comedy, he said, can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.

Williams seemed less like a Hollywood icon and more like a favorite eccentric uncle who could leave everyone in stitches, then turn around and be supremely serious, perhaps even painfully so.

In every role he took, no matter if it were broadly comic or profoundly menacing, Williams injected his singular persona, perhaps even a little too much of himself than was "safe.'' We didn't just marvel at his performances, we also experienced the seething humanity just visible beneath the role. This is perhaps why his loss is so deeply-felt.

Fans mourn

Coping through social media posts

WKYC Staff, Cleveland

Actress and Cleveland native Monica Potter worked along side Robin Williams on the 1998 film Patch Adams.

She fought tears while she spoke on the phone from Los Angeles with WKYC's Russ Mitchell about the impact Williams had on her and others.

The most important lesson Potter says she learned from Williams is to "savor the tiny moments."

August 11, 2014: Cleveland-native actress Monica Potter remembers working with Robin Williams. She spoke on the phone with WKYC's Russ Mitchell. WKYC

When news of Robin Williams' unexpected death broke Monday evening, Twitter was filled with tributes from fans, fellow comics, other celebrities and President Obama.