For many the name Robin Williams strikes a warm, familiar chord. Movies like Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, and Aladdin undoubtably sit fondly in many people’s memory banks, his ability to induce laughter a reliable pick-me-up
When news broke in August 2014 that the legendary funny man had taken his own life, the shock was palpable. A stark contrast to the many characters he had portrayed over the years that the audience fell in love with. How a man, who effortlessly brought so much joy to many through his craft, could have been at such and extreme breaking point was a fact people struggled to reconcile with. At the time the media attempted to make sense of his death, leaning heavily on past bouts of depression while siting his previous history with drug and alcohol abuse as the possible cause. Over the years, news of his undiagnosed battle with Lewy Body Dementia – an aggressive, fatal brain disorder that has an associated risk of suicide – surfaced but failed to quash the previous rumours that depression and substance abuse were key factors in his death.
Robin’s Wish is a touchingly frank expose of his final year. Through his widow Susan Schneider Williams and a collection of his closest friends and colleagues, director Tylor Norwood sets about the task of unravelling the truth behind Robin’s struggle and subsequent death.
“I want to help people be less afraid” was a quote the late Robins Williams wrote in his Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions recovery book. That is the wish the title of this documentary so shrewdly alludes to. Though short and compact the documentary takes a look back at his life and explores how Robin did just this. We are able to witness Robin’s compassion and his humble spirit throughs his acts of charity (counselling injured troops in hospital) and his closest relationships which included his friendship with the late actor Christopher Reeves (who is documented praising Robin for his support post the infamous horseback riding injury that left him partially paralysed).
Simultaneously the documentary details his extreme frustration as he neared the end of his life. Wife Susan describes how he shouldered the blame for the anxiety and depression that occurred as symptoms of the disease and how the hallucinations and vivid dreams drove them to separate beds. However, it was the loss of his memory and dependable quick wit that plagued his working life leading to a breakdown of confidence.
Director for Night in the Museum 3, Shawn Levy, describes the difficulties Robin faced when shooting his final film stating “a month into the shoot, it was clear to all of us on that set that something was going on with Robin.” He added “we saw that Robin was struggling in a way that he hadn’t before to remember lines and combine the right words with the performance.” A mirrored experience for executive producer of The Crazy Ones, David E Kelley, a sitcom Robin was also filming during that time. Kelley recalled Robin asking several times “‘how’s it going? Is it working?’ but the subtext of it was how am I doing? Am I working?”.
Robin’s trembling hand led to a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease but the unravelling of his mind made this hard for him to accept.
Following his death widow Susanne has tried to educate the public about the real reason behind his suicide and with Robin’s Wish, she succeeds.
For those who want to know the true Robin, this is a quick snapshot of who the man was with and without the laughs and how the brilliance of his mind was being eroded by a silent disease. If nothing more Robin leaves us with a poignant message befitting of the times we face today that is “the thing that matters are others, way beyond yourself. Self goes away, ego bye bye. That’s what life is about.”