STARRED REVIEW
May 15, 2018

The life of a beloved, troubled icon

By Dave Itzkoff

Addiction is a catchall phrase these days, and Robin Williams, who killed himself in 2014, was certainly an alcoholic and addict off and on throughout his life, but his real cravings were emotional and psychological. His explosive comedic energy, which at times poured out as if he had plunged a needle into some secret vein of creativity, rushed him toward success just as it pushed him continually to get higher. He idolized many who admired him, but rarely felt secure in their estimation. Ultimately, his desire for laughter and critical affirmation—despite the peer and public acclaim for his work—escalated to a level that could never be fulfilled.

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What is the lesson of the tin soldier? The mightiest may someday melt down, but never retreat.

Addiction is a catchall phrase these days, and Robin Williams, who killed himself in 2014, was certainly an alcoholic and addict off and on throughout his life, but his real cravings were emotional and psychological. His explosive comedic energy, which at times poured out as if he had plunged a needle into some secret vein of creativity, rushed him toward success just as it pushed him continually to get higher. He idolized many who admired him, but rarely felt secure in their estimation. Ultimately, his desire for laughter and critical affirmation—despite the peer and public acclaim for his work—escalated to a level that could never be fulfilled.

Dave Itzkoff’s exhaustive and exhausting biography of the inimitable comedian and actor, Robin, meticulously traces Williams’ life and career, his seemingly overnight success, marriages, infidelities and closest friendships, using extensive personal interviews of family and friends. Itzkoff largely allows Williams’ inner circle to supply the psychological analysis on the late creative genius.

The fable of the sweet-tempered Williams grows sadder, of course, and the details of his final years are excruciatingly sad: Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he was forced to witness the deaths of two of his closest friends, Christopher Reed and Richard Pryor, from physically debilitating diseases. After Williams’ suicide, the autopsy revealed that he was suffering from not only depression and heart disease but also Lewy body dementia, misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, which in addition to increasing motor problems causes insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations and other symptoms that would have terrified even someone whose mind was not his universe, as Williams’ was.

Oh, and the soldier? Robin’s first childhood audience was his toy soldiers, who marched around the world—perhaps the universe—at his command. He never stopped loving them, and they were on guard during Williams’ final days.

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Robin

Robin

By Dave Itzkoff
Holt
ISBN 9781627794244

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