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Facts We Just Learned About Robin Williams That Made Us Say 'Really?'

Updated May 7, 2021 23.7k votes 4.5k voters 624.7k views10 items

List RulesVote up the facts you never knew about late comedian Robin Williams.

It's difficult to exaggerate the impact of Robin Williams, because "impact" is the perfect word for his comedic style. In his stand-up, he threw jokes at the audience rapid-fire, parading through characters and voices without stopping for breath - ending his set drenched in a mixture of his own sweat and several bottles of water. As an actor, he could achieve heartbreaking sincerity - such as his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting - or clown his way through utter dreck.

Off stage, Williams battled with depression and addiction. In the comedy community, he was both envied for his success and despised for stealing jokes - a charge Williams freely admitted to. He was open about his flaws, and beloved by his friends - and audiences the world over. Here are a few things you may not have known about Robin Williams. Vote up the facts that genuinely surprise you.

  • Schindler's List is a heartbreaking film about a monstrous era in world history, and the production took an emotional toll on director Steven Spielberg. In 2018, the director revealed that he and Williams had a weekly phone call that helped him relax:

    Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone. I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.

  • Photo: Jumanji / Sony Pictures Releasing

    As Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone was going into production, Robin Williams was eager to play the role of Hagrid - the kindly, half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the producers had imposed a "Brits-only" rule for the casting.

    Casting director Janet Hirshenson told the Huffington Post, “Robin had called because he really wanted to be in the movie, but it was a British-only edict, and once [director Chris Columbus] said no to Robin, he wasn’t going to say yes to anybody else, that’s for sure. It couldn’t be.”

  • Photo: Good Will Hunting / Miramax Films

    It Was His Dementia, Not Depression, That Ultimately Caused Williams To Take His Life

    Throughout his career, Robin Williams was open about his struggle with depression, and when he took his life in August 2014, many outlets speculated his depression was to blame. Sadly, this was only one factor that contributed to his passing.

    In fact, Williams suffered from a neurodegenerative disorder known as Lewy body dementia, or dementia with Lewy bodies. It is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. The symptoms are debilitating and include "fluctuations in mental status, hallucinations and impairment of motor function."

    According to Williams' widow, Susan, the disease began to manifest in the year before the comedian took his life, and rapidly ate away at his mental state. The man she loved was "just disintegrating" before her eyes, Susan explained in an interview. Williams' friend, director Bobcat Goldthwait, recognized this as well.

    "I definitely witnessed his dementia," Goldthwait said. "You know, him processing things completely different.... He was frustrated trying to memorize dialogue and things like that. This was something that was attacking his brain..."

    Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three months before his suicide, and it wasn't until three months after his death that the coroner confirmed he suffered from Lewy body dementia. Susan wrote that Williams had lost 40% of his dopamine neurons, and his case was "one of the worst pathologies [his doctors] had seen."

    If he had not taken his life, Williams was predicted to live three more years, at most, and in a progressively declining condition.

  • Photo: Insomnia / Warner Bros.

    To many comedians, stealing a signature joke is the ultimate sin of stand-up. In the comedy community, Robin Williams was alleged to be a prolific stealer of jokes - but comedians differ on how intentional this was.

    Some claim Williams would go to comedy clubs to deliberately steal other comics' material, while others say Williams soaked up comedy bits like a sponge and would repeat them while going on improvisational tangents. Williams himself admitted to the latter in a 2010 interview with Marc Maron:

    I think in the old days... if you hang out in comedy clubs, when I was doing it almost 24/7, you hear things, and then if you're improvising all of a sudden you repeat it and go, "Oh s***..." My brain was working that way.

    Williams also admitted that, when comedians confronted him about stealing their jokes, he apologized by paying for them. "I was also like the bank of comedy," he told Maron. "Like, 'Oh s***, here you go, here's money, I'm sorry!"