SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police officials in the San Francisco Bay Area provided an early timeline of Robin Williams’ death Tuesday, revealing the horrible torment beneath the actor and comedian’s extraordinary talent.
As CBS 2’s Dana Tyler reported, Marin County, California sheriff’s officials said Williams, 63, committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt in the unincorporated community of Tiburon.
Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Boyd said Williams was found in a bedroom by his personal assistant on Monday. Boyd, who is also the county’s assistant chief deputy coroner, said the actor also had superficial cuts on his wrist and a pocketknife was found nearby.
Sheriff’s officials said Monday a preliminary investigation determined the cause of death was suicide due to asphyxia. Williams had suffered for years from periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression.
Boyd would not say whether Williams left a suicide note.
Just last month, Williams announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program.
Williams was last seen alive by his wife, Susan Schneider, at about 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 when she retired for the evening in another room of the house they shared together, Boyd said. They were the only people in the house at the time, Boyd said.
It had not been learned as of Tuesday evening when Williams’ retired for the evening.
Schneider left the home the next morning around 10:30 a.m., believing Williams was still asleep, Boyd said.
Boyd said Williams’ personal assistant became concerned around 11:45 a.m. when he failed to respond to knocks on his bedroom door, Boyd said.
The personal assistant eventually gained access and entered the bedroom to find Williams “clothed, in a seated position, unresponsive, with a belt secured around his neck, with the other end of the belt wedged between the closed closet door and the door frame.”
“(Williams) was cool to the touch with rigor mortis present,” Boyd said, adding that the inside of his left wrist also had several acute, superficial, transverse cuts. A pocket knife with a closed blade was located near his body.
“The pocket knife was examined, and a dry, red material was located on the blade of the knife, which appeared consistent to dried blood,” Boyd said.
Williams was pronounced dead Monday at 12:02 p.m.
The actor and comedian had been open about his addictions, and after 20 years of sobriety, he had recently checked himself into rehab.
Williams was candid about his struggles with depression and substance abuse, bringing it up in his comedy routines and interviews. In a standup routine, he once quipped, “I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open.”
Mount Sinai School of Medicine professor of psychiatry Dr. Harris Straytner said many comedians have used the craft to deal with their inner demons.
“We see that there are lot of comedians who have a dark side, and Robin Williams used to talk about his dark side,” Stratyner said.
Straytner said if Williams was profoundly depressed, his open-heart surgery in 2009 could have made it even worse.
“Having open heart surgery psychologically, and even physiologically, can cause an exacerbated depression,” Straytner said.
Toxicology test results on whether Williams had any drugs or alcohol in his system are weeks away. Boyd said authorities will continue to investigate his death.
Wife Schneider released a statement shortly after the news of Williams’ death was made public.
“I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” Schneider said in the statement.
Williams’ children also released statements saying the time they spent with their father was precious, and asking that fans remember him as gentle, kind and generous. Daughter Zelda left a lengthy tribute on her personal Tumblr page.
“Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls I’ve ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence,” she said in part. “We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.”
Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, Williams’ fans flocked to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the actor’s home Tuesday – all numbed by his sudden passing.
The Oscar-winning actor brought to life every character he played — from his breakthrough in the late 1970s as the alien in the hit TV show “Mork & Mindy,” through his standup act and numerous hit films.
Tributes from inside and outside the entertainment industry have been pouring in since the news of his death.
“The Juilliard community is deeply saddened by the death of our distinguished alumnus Robin Williams,” said Joseph W. Polisi, President of The Juilliard School. “Robin’s genius for comedic improvisation, which quickly surfaced in his studies at Juilliard, was matched by his deep understanding of the actor’s art and how to touch his audience in meaningful ways. He was a generous supporter of the School’s drama students through the Robin Williams Scholarship, which supported the tuition cost of a drama student each year. His caring ways and effervescent personality will be missed by all who were touched by this special person.”
Williams attended the school from 1973 to 1976.
Many comedians in New York City were also heartbroken to hear the news of Williams’ death.
“It’s like someone punched me in the stomach, and I think everyone in America is going to experience crying for someone you never met, but you felt you knew him,” said comedian Paul Rodriguez.
“He was just a very sweet, kind, gentle guy and hilarious,” said Chris Mazzilli, owner of the Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea.
“There are actors and there are comedians, but then there are people who transcend definition. They are simply a force in the world, and that was Robin,” New York comedian Michael Somerville told CBSNewYork.com. “As performers, we work hard trying to get it ‘right,’ and then Robin would go out and show us there’s no such thing.”
At Gotham Comedy Club, teens like 16-year-old Zach Rosenfeld are attending stand-up summer camp, where Williams was being honored Tuesday.
“We teach kids to take things out of their own lives and turn them into comedy, much like Robin Williams did. If they’ve got a funny voice or funny idea, then they bring it out,” he said.
As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, club owner Chris Mazzilli remembers a time when Williams just showed up.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to go on tonight. I just came down to talk to you, see how you’re doing and how the club was going,'” Mazzilli recalled. “It was genuine, he was a really nice guy.”
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“What I will always remember about Robin, perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent and astounding intellect, was his huge heart — his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague and fellow traveler in a difficult world,” said “The Birdcage” co-star Nathan Lane in a statement.
“I am completely and totally devastated. What more can be said?” said “Mork & Mindy” co-star Pam Dawber in a statement.
“Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him. He was a pal and I can’t believe he’s gone,’ said “Hook” director Steven Spielberg in a statement.
“I’ve never known a sweeter, brighter, more considerate person than Robin. Robin’s commitment as an artist to lifting our mood and making us happy is compared to none. He loved us all and we loved him back.,” said “Old Dogs” co-star John Travolta in a statement.
Many took to Twitter to express their sadness.
“Sesame Street” also tweeted a picture saying, “We mourn the loss of our friend Robin Williams, who always made us laugh and smile”
In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his three children: daughter Zelda, 25; and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 22.
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