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Robin Williams’ widow Susan Schneider has penned a heartbreaking personal essay about her husband’s final months before his 2014 suicide named “The Terrorist Inside My Husband’s Brain” which has been published in medical journal Neurology.
She discusses his case of Lewy body dementia – the illness which was initially misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.
Robin was growing weary. The parkinsonian mask was ever present and his voice was weakened. His left hand tremor was continuous now and he had a slow, shuffling gait. He hated that he could not find the words he wanted in conversations. He would thrash at night and still had terrible insomnia. At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it. He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth. His loss of basic reasoning just added to his growing confusion.
She discusses his inability to grasp that the feelings he had were not the result of inadequacy of his own self or character, but instead of a real illness.
Once the coroner’s report was reviewed, a doctor was able to point out to me that there was a high concentration of Lewy bodies within the amygdala. This likely caused the acute paranoia and out-of-character emotional responses he was having. How I wish he could have known why he was struggling, that it was not a weakness in his heart, spirit, or character.
Schneider writes that Williams “was losing his mind and he was aware of it,” and kept expressing a desire to “reboot his brain” after he became unable to remember even one line during the production of Night at the Museum 3, one of his final films.
While just three years prior he had played in a full 5-month season of the Broadway production Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, often doing two shows a day with hundreds of lines—and not one mistake. This loss of memory and inability to control his anxiety was devastating to him.
She concludes her essay by encouraging the neuroscientists who are reading to keep fighting to understand the causes of the currently incurable disease. If only Robin could have met you,” she writes. “He would have loved you—not just because he was a genius and enjoyed science and discovery, but because he would have found a lot of material within your work to use in entertaining his audiences.”
Photo: Getty Images / Dave Hogan.