Nearly five years after his tragic death, Robin Williams’ eldest son is taking the time to speak about the impact his father’s suicide had upon him.
In a new suicide awareness campaign with Faces of Fortitude, Zachary Williams was photographed and interviewed as he spoke about dealing with the tragic loss of his father.
“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this, to balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly,” said the 36-year old. “I started to feel bad for myself, I was seeking solace and healing through my grieving.
Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw. It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there. I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
Faces of Fortitude is an Instagram photography project by mental health advocate Mariangela Abeo that aims to offer “a safe space for those touched by suicide.”
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“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn’t just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse and cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, even venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak Williams and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words and photos from Zak’s session with you all week.
Zak’s tribute comes close to the five year anniversary of his father’s death.
On August 11, 2014, Robin hung himself in his Paradise Cay, California home. The autopsy revealed the actor had been suffering from Lewy Body dementia, which encompasses the Parkinson’s disease Williams had been previously diagnosed with.
A medical journal examining Williams described the pathologies causing his particular brand of Lewy body disease as one of the worst they had ever seen, attributing it to the severe depression and paranoia he suffered from in the months leading up to his death.
Williams’ wife Susan Schneider referred to the disease as “the terrorist inside my husband’s brain” and said that Robin often remarked that “I just want to reboot my brain.”
In the days that followed, the world paid tribute to the Hollywood star. Seemingly everyone in show business made a tribute to the late star, impromptu memorials popped up around the country at iconic places from Williams’ films, and Highway 101 tunnel was even renamed ‘The Robin Williams Tunnel’.
Robin’s legacy also lives on in the form of one of his most famous roles, even if it’s been adopted by another actor.
This month’s release of Disney’s new live-action Aladdin film has many revisiting the greatness of Robin’s original role as the Genie, with much focus on how Will Smith’s performance compares (or hopes to).
Although Smith’s rendition of the role has been mocked relentlessly on social media (largely for uncanny valley-based appearance reasons), the actor was under no illusion that it would be an easy act to follow.
“The biggest challenge was being able to find a way to not make it jarring and disturbing by how different it would be,” said Smith, who almost turned down the opportunity because of how ingrained Williams is to the role. “To make people feel at home while they were getting something new and special.”
During filming, Robin also paid tribute on Instagram with a post that read “I know Genies don’t have Feet… But you left some Big Shoes to fill. R.I.P., Robin!”
So far, the reboot has received mixed reviews ranging from average to excellent. But generally critics have thought Will’s rendition more than honored Williams, with the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan writing “Smith brings a fresh, more street-wise approach to his character, while still honoring the motor-mouthed spirit of Williams’s scene-stealing performance.”