Robin Williams’ addiction journey was a deeply personal struggle parallel to his glittering public life. Behind the laughter and applause, he battled with the demons of cocaine and alcohol abuse for decades, a silent current flowing beneath the surface.
On the tragic day, 11 August 2014, the iconic comedian and beloved actor left the world stunned when news of his apparent suicide by asphyxia shook the globe. He was 63 years old and grappled with severe depression, as revealed by his publicist Mara Buxbaum. But to truly understand the depth of his pain, we must delve into the tangled web of addiction that plagued his life.
How it Began
During the peak of his career in the 1970s, Williams openly acknowledged he engaged in significant substance abuse. After the success of “Mork and Mindy,” he started using cocaine and alcohol, consuming substantial quantities in various bars and clubs.
The end of the television run of “Mork & Mindy” in May 1982 marked the culmination of Williams’ rise to stardom. His eccentric portrayal of Mork, an alien with boundless energy, was loved by audiences worldwide. But behind the scenes, the weight of addiction threatened to consume him entirely. Fame comes at a price, and addiction was Williams’s to pay.
For years after, Williams was ensnared in the grips of substance abuse. Cocaine, a cruel mistress, seduced him with its false promises of confidence and euphoria. Meanwhile, alcohol, the silent destroyer, became a crutch, a temporary escape from the pain lurking within. Success and admiration were a double-edged sword for him. So, the pressure to maintain his public persona took a toll on his mental health, leading him down a treacherous path of substance abuse.
A Change of Heart
But with impending fatherhood on the horizon, he made the life-altering decision to break free from these chains. Through determination and love, Williams found the strength to confront his addiction head-on. Six months before the birth of his first child, Zachary, in April 1983, with his then-wife Valerie Velardi, he decided to quit cocaine and alcohol cold turkey. This was a turning point in his life.
His journey towards sobriety was remarkable not only for his decision to quit drugs and alcohol but also for the absence of traditional rehabilitation programs. Unlike many others facing addiction, Williams did not seek professional help or engage in formal therapeutic support. Instead, he chose to confront his demons on his terms. But was that a wise decision, after all?
John Belushi’s Demise from Overdose
A pivotal event that influenced Williams’ decision to quit substance abuse was the tragic death of his close friend, John Belushi, in March 1982. Just hours before Belushi’s fatal overdose, Williams had been at his bungalow in Chateau Marmont. The loss of Belushi sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, prompting many to reevaluate their destructive behaviors. Williams, too, recognized the gravity of the situation and the toll addiction was taking on his own life.
In 1988, Williams shared his perspective on his friend’s death, stating, “The Belushi tragedy was frightening. His death scared a whole group of show-business people. It caused a big exodus from drugs… I knew I couldn’t be a father and live that sort of life.” This realization and the desire to be a present and responsible parent propelled him to quit the abuse.
The Complexity of Robin Williams’ Addiction
In 1991, Williams opened up about his drug use, shedding light on his journey toward sobriety. He revealed that his managers had sent him to a doctor to address his alleged cocaine problem. When the doctor asked about the extent of his usage, Williams replied, “A gram every couple of days.” To his surprise, the doctor dismissed his consumption as not indicative of a significant problem.
This admission highlights the complex nature of addiction. While Williams’ drug use may not have reached extreme levels by some standards, it’s important to remember that addiction is not solely defined by quantity. Rather, it’s the impact on an individual’s well-being and relationships that measures its extent.
Robin Williams’ Relapse
Despite his two-decade-long triumph over addiction, Williams faced a turning point during the filming of a movie in Alaska in 2003. After staying sober for a substantial period, he became vulnerable, feeling isolated and fearful in a remote town. Once again, he gave in to his urge to substance use.
Looking back at the time seven years after he relapsed, Williams candidly expressed his thought process during that challenging period. He shared how it was a desperate attempt to find comfort and escape from the overwhelming emotions that plagued him.
The Mounting Workload
Williams admitted that his reasoning behind considering alcohol as a coping mechanism stemmed from the intense workload he had subjected himself to over the years. In his own words, he thought, “Maybe drinking will help.” However, what seemed like a possible solution quickly turned into a nightmare.
Reflecting on that period, Williams described drinking as “the worst thing in the world.” It was a stark reminder of the power of addiction and the devastating consequences it can have, even after years of sobriety. The allure of substances, which once held a grip on his life, resurfaced with a vengeance, threatening to undo all his progress.
This is often the constant battle individuals face in maintaining sobriety. Indeed, addiction is a lifelong struggle. Even those who have achieved significant milestones can find themselves vulnerable to relapse, especially if they never obtain professional and long-term support.
Robin Williams Seeks Treatment
Despite recognizing his trouble within a week of relapsing, Williams took three long years to seek help. In 2006, a family intervention became the catalyst that led him to the Hazelden residential rehab facility in Springbrook, Oregon. It was a significant moment in his journey towards recovery.
Williams’s admission to rehab marked his commitment to confront his addiction again. Following his stay at Hazelden, he publicly spoke about attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly. That’s how he found support within a community of individuals facing similar challenges.
One notable aspect of Williams’ recovery is his steadfast determination to avoid cocaine. He recognized the immense danger it posed to his life and consciously decided never to return to its grasp. He emphatically stated about the drug, “I knew that would kill me.”
Addictions’ Impact on Williams’ Personal Life
However, the toll of his drinking and subsequent trip to rehab devastated his personal life. In March 2008, after 19 years of marriage, his second wife, Marsha Garces, filed for divorce. The stress and strain caused by his addiction and the subsequent recovery journey proved too much for their relationship to bear.
In 2011, Williams found love again and remarried graphic designer Susan Schneider. Despite his personal challenges, Williams remained committed to his sobriety this time, continuing to seek support and fine-tune his recovery.
Later, it was revealed that Williams had been participating in Hazelden’s Lodge program in Minnesota. This unique program catered to individuals already sober and allowed them to reconnect with their 12-step foundations. By combining meditation and spiritual work, it enhanced their recovery journey further.
The Power of Treatment
In Williams’ words, addiction is “not caused by anything; it’s just there. It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now; I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK.” This statement captures the inherent complexity of addiction. It’s a powerful reminder that addiction cannot be easily dismissed or overcome alone. Regardless of the amount or frequency of substance use, the underlying issue persists, silently exerting its influence on a person’s well-being.
That’s why seeking professional help and a life-long recovery plan is important, even after treatment. So, if you or your loved ones struggle to stay committed to a substance-free life or begin one, North Jersey Recovery Center is always here to help you. With Sober Living Houses and various treatment programs for all sorts of addictions, you can rely on us to hold your hand and walk you through the darkness that addiction casts over your life. Contact us today to change your days. You deserve better!