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New Documentary Reveals Robin Williams's Struggle With Parkinson's Disease

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A new documentary about Robin Williams’ life, “Robin Williams: When the Laughter Stops,” will reveal new information about the late actor’s health struggles, including his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Williams died by suicide in 2014.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

According to a trailer for the documentary, produced by the cable network REELZ, Williams checked into a rehab facility a few weeks before his death so he could “refocus.” According to the documentary, however, Williams was struggling with depression and symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease.

“Robin was more worried about the bouts of depression that were consuming him,” AMI Vice President and Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard said in the trailer. “While he was happy to talk publicly about his addictions to both booze and drugs, he kept his longer and more personally painful battle with Parkinson’s disease all to himself.”

When Williams died in 2014, his widow Susan Williams said the impact of Lewy body dementia contributed to his death. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few months before his death, but the presence of dementia wasn’t discovered until his autopsy, according to STAT. In a 2016 editorial, Susan Williams shared he tried a wide variety of treatments to manage his symptoms, which included paranoia and hallucinations.

“He kept saying, ‘I just want to reboot my brain,’” Susan Williams wrote. “Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating? And not from something he would ever know the name of, or understand? Neither he, nor anyone could stop it — no amount of intelligence or love could hold it back.”

Lewy body dementia, and a similar and nearly indistinguishable type of dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease, occurs when a type of toxic protein called Lewy bodies develop in the nervous system, leading to symptoms like difficulty remembering things, issues with thinking and processing information, and hallucinations. There’s also a strong connection between dementia and depression. Between 20–60% of those with dementia will experience depression.

The REELZ documentary takes a closer look at his health and Parkinson’s disease toward the end of his life through interviews with friends and other media figures. According to a description on the REELZ website, the film also examines the connection between mental health and comedy.

“We examine this brutal and tragic dichotomy, casting its incisive eye on the comedians’ personal lives, while separating fact from fiction, creative work from the human being behind it, to probe not just from where their genius sprung — but how that same wellspring often lead to their demise,” the website reads.

Robin Williams: When the Laughter Stops” airs on REELZ Sunday, Aug. 11, at 9 p.m. ET.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Eva Rinaldi

Originally published: August 5, 2019
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