The storied comedian and actor Robin Williams had spent time at a rehab facility this summer to maintain his sobriety, his publicist said.
"This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings," Williams' wife Susan Schneider said in a written statement on Monday afternoon. According to the local sheriff's office, coroners believe Williams may have committed suicide by asphyxia, and the actor's representative said he had been "battling severe depression of late."
While the representative did not elaborate on the potential source of his recent depression, one-third of people with major depression also struggle with alcoholism, and Williams admitted to abusing both cocaine and alcohol during the height of his popularity in the 1970s as alien Mork on Mork & Mindy, which showcased his manic improvisational style. He quit using drugs and alcohol in 1983 and remained sober for 20 years after the birth of his first son.
But in a revealing interview in the Guardian, Williams admitted that while working in Alaska in 2003, he felt "alone and afraid" and turned to the bottle because he thought it would help. For three years, he believed it did, until his family staged an intervention and he went into rehab, he told the Guardian. "I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust — that's hard to recover from," he said then.
He said he attended weekly AA meetings, and this July, People.com reported that Williams spent several weeks at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota, for what his representatives said was an "opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment [to sobriety], of which he remains extremely proud."
Studies suggest that alcoholism and depression may feed each other. People who are depressed are more vulnerable to abusing alcohol than those who don't experience depressive episodes, and those who drink heavily are also more likely to experience depression. The latest evidence also hints that the same genes may be responsible for both conditions, and depression is a strong risk factor for suicide. About 90% of people who take their own lives are diagnosed with depression or other mental disorders. Suicide is also more likely among baby boomers, according to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The coroner's office is continuing its investigation into Williams' death.