Robin Williams’ son speaks out on what would have been his dad's 70th birthday

'What I saw was frustration... What he was going through didn't match one-to-one [with what] many Parkinson's patients experience.'
July 22, 2021 9:50 a.m. EST
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Robin Williams would have turned 70 this week, and to commemorate his birthday, his son, Zak Williams, opened up about his late father and his struggles with depression.

In an episode of mental health podcast The Genius Life, which dropped on July 21, Zak told host Max Lugavere that his father was frustrated and uncomfortable before his death-by-suicide, having been misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years earlier.

“What I saw was frustration,” Zak said on the podcast. “What he was going through didn't match one-to-one [with what] many Parkinson's patients experience. So, I think that was hard for him,” he continued.

Following his 2014 death at the age of 63, Williams’ autopsy revealed he actually had dementia with Lewy bodies, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease. The disease took a major toll on Williams, who had always been known to be quick on his feet, especially on a stage.

“There was a focus issue that frustrated him, there were issues associated with how he felt and also from a neurological perspective he didn't feel great," Zak said. “He was very uncomfortable.”

Williams worked right up until his death. He had starred in the short-lived CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar, he returned for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and he starred in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn alongside Mila Kunis and Peter Dinklage, among other projects. Through it all, he was on harmful medication that Zak says took a toll.

“Those drugs are no joke. They’re also really hard on the mind and the body,” Zak said, adding that the disease made it challenging for his father to perform his craft.

“Lightning-quick recall — that was his signature… I couldn't help but feel beyond empathy,” he continued. “I couldn't help but feel frustrated for him. It can be really isolating even when you're with family and loved ones.”

According to Zak those feelings intensified alongside Williams’ symptoms over the two years from diagnosis to death. “I don't want to say it was a short period. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because it was a period for him of intense searching and frustration,” the 38-year-old added.

Following Williams’ death, Zak faced his own mental health struggles, which he also opened up about on the podcast. "I was heavily drinking to manage my mental health where it created very harmful issues,” he shared.

“For me personally, I was having health issues. I was experiencing some psychosis and when I spoke with a psychiatrist I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he continued. “I was self-medicating through the trauma using alcohol. I was just sick and tired of trying to treat myself using harmful means.”

These days, Zak is sober and an advocate for mental health. He’s also the co-founder and CEO of PYM (Prepare Your Mind) a mental health support brand of all-natural chews to help you feel calm and relaxed.

“Beyond products, we are working towards PYM serving as a mental wellness platform for the mental health de-stigmatization movement that lends itself to multiple forms of advocacy and resources for those suffering,” Zak told Forbes earlier this year.

“PYM is rooted in the belief that there is a world where someone can naturally become the best version of themselves through focusing on daily rituals and habits that support the mind and help one become better over time.”

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