Robin Williams’ son Zak opens up about impact of late father’s misdiagnosis: ‘What I noticed was frustration’

Robin Williams

2021-07-22 03:27:47

The son of Robin Williams is talking out about his father’s psychological struggles in addition to his personal within the wake of the legendary comic’s dying in a brand new podcast interview.

Zak Williams, 38, sat down with author and host Max Lugavere for an extended heart-to-heart throughout the newest installment of his podcast, “The Genius Life,” which streams new episodes each Wednesday.

Their candid dialog included their mutual struggles with melancholy, anxiousness and the ache of watching a liked one be consumed by a debilitating neurodegenerative illness: dementia with Lewy our bodies. Each Lugavere and Williams have watched a mother or father endure by means of the “irritating” sickness — the ache of which has left an enduring affect on each males.

It was a poignant dialog to debut on the day that will have been Robin’s seventieth birthday, on July 21.


Robin Williams’ son Zak Williams described his ‘irritating’ expertise watching his father wrestle with dementia earlier than his suicide in 2014.
(Picture by Albert Chau/FilmMagic)

“What I noticed was frustration,” mentioned Williams of his father’s prognosis and misdiagnosis.

About two years earlier than his dying by suicide in 2014, docs instructed Williams that he had Parkinson’s illness, a dysfunction of the central nervous system that impacts motion, inflicting its signature tremors.

However an post-mortem would later reveal that Robin and his medical workforce had handled the fallacious sickness. “What he was going by means of didn’t match one to at least one [with] many Parkinson’s sufferers’ expertise,” mentioned the eldest son of Robin and his first spouse, Valerie Velardi.

Williams believes his father’s misdiagnosis possible exacerbated the emotional toll that dementia takes on sufferers. Within the years Robin lived with out realizing the total scope of his sickness, his son noticed his struggles to focus and the next “challenges performing his craft,” contributing to the actors’ anxiousness and melancholy previous to his dying.

“Lightning fast recall — that was his signature [on stage],” he mentioned, referring to the affect of dementia on sufferers.

Each dementia with Lewy our bodies [DLB] and Parkinson’s dementia illness [PDD] are subtypes of dementia, marked by a buildup of proteins that clump collectively in neurons of the mind, inhibiting each the central and autonomic nervous methods.

Nonetheless, DLB distinguishes itself from the opposite subtype with signs together with a notable decline in cognitive skills, and struggles with on a regular basis psychological actions equivalent to planning, problem-solving, focusing and staying alert, in keeping with the Lewy Physique Dementia Affiliation. Hallucinations, sleep-walking, temper swings and bodily rigidity are additionally attribute of DLB.

Robin Williams teaching a class in a scene from the film 'Dead Poets Society', 1989. 

Robin Williams instructing a category in a scene from the movie ‘Lifeless Poets Society’, 1989. 
(Picture by Touchstone Photos/Getty Photographs)


Moreover, the event of PDD will not be assured in all Parkinson’s sufferers initially — including to Robin’s confusion within the years prior two his dying.

“It was a interval for him of intense looking and frustration,” Williams mentioned. “It’s simply devastating.”

That devastation took its toll within the aftermath of his father’s passing — within the type of post-traumatic stress dysfunction, alcoholism and melancholy: “I used to be self-medicating by means of the trauma utilizing alcohol.”

His waning well being, which included bouts with psychosis, in the end galvanized Williams to hunt assist — by serving to others. “I used to be simply sick and uninterested in making an attempt to deal with myself utilizing dangerous means,” mentioned Williams, who remodeled his unfavorable expertise right into a optimistic one by means of advocacy.

“What’s it I have to not solely handle myself, however to point out up for others?,” he posed to host Max Lugavere, who famous that males, particularly, are 4 instances extra prone to die by suicide in comparison with girls, in keeping with research.


“I feel many [men] really feel remoted, many don’t have the retailers wanted,” mentioned the daddy of two, who discovered power in a 12-step program and different types of group remedy. He sympathizes particularly with those that lack entry to psychological well being sources, resulting from price or distance. Telehealth is working to increase entry, he identified, however encourages in-person connection in tandem.

Particularly in males, for whom the stigma of in search of psychological well being therapy is far greater, males’s teams — at church buildings, bars or wherever else they discover shared curiosity — generally is a highly effective supply of inspiration and help. Gender-exclusive males’s teams, too, “allows them to concentrate on points at hand with out interpersonal gender dynamics,” Williams added.

The activist and entrepreneur, who based PYM, a psychological wellness firm that focuses on “neuro-nutrition.” It was his battle with alcoholism that prompted his exploration of the topic, main him to be taught extra about how nutrient deficiency impacts the mind and psychological well being, such because the neurotransmitter Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dietary supplements of which made all of the distinction in his restoration. “It was like night time and day,” Williams mentioned.

Low ranges of GABA within the mind have been related to elevated ranges of hysteria and temper issues. The amino acid has been nicknamed “nature’s Valium,” by some, in keeping with Lugavere.


PYM’s merchandise and different types of supplementation are “not cures,” Williams insisted and ought to be utilized in tandem with a nutritious diet, train and remedy, for some. “They don’t clear up for anxiousness, however they attempt to tackle the basis fixes.”

His purpose as an advocate is to encourage folks to want to assume extra about psychological well being when it comes to physiological well being: “Individuals want to grasp what they want for his or her our bodies.”

If you happen to or somebody is having ideas of suicide, please contact the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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