Robin Williams, the comic actor whose manic, fast-paced delivery made him instantly familiar to movie audiences around the world, was found dead on Monday at his home in northern California, local police said.
The Oscar-winning actor was found by a personal assistant hanged to death, and the preliminary finding is that he died of “asphyxia due to hanging”, a local sheriff’s official said on Tuesday. A full investigation was under way.
Mr Williams, 63, had been struggling with “severe depression”, his media representative said on CNN later in the day.
The news brought instant tributes and messages of sadness in the entertainment world and beyond. “Heartbroken by the news of Robin Williams’ passing,” Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, tweeted. “He was an incomparable talent and a great human being. Rest in peace.” Apple used a speech Mr Williams gave in one of his movies, Dead Poets Society, in an iPad advert earlier this year.
US president Barack Obama also issued statement: “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. He made us laugh.
“He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”
Born in Chicago in 1951, Mr Williams attended the Juilliard School in New York before getting his start in stand-up comedy and television.
He became a cult favourite with a generation of Americans in the late 1970s after his first breakthrough television role, as the zany alien Mork, first in Happy Days and then in a TV spin-off, Mork & Mindy.
That was a prelude to the movie that sealed his rise – Good Morning Vietnam, in which he played a hyper-loquacious army radio DJ. Jumping between voices in a rapid-fire delivery, the role displayed the quirky humour and brilliant versatility of the onscreen persona that became his trademark.
Behind the ebullient comic characters he often played, Mr Williams’ personal life was often far from happy. He said that he overcame a cocaine and alcohol habit at the time his first son was born, in 1983, but slipped back into drinking two decades later. He checked himself into a rehabilitation centre in 2006.
Heartbroken by the news of Robin Williams’ passing. He was an incomparable talent and a great human being. Rest in peace
That was followed three years later by surgery to replace a valve in his heart. But the personal troubles, including two divorces, did not prevent the reflexive irony that peppered his conversation during interviews, even when discussing his darkest moments.
“You appreciate little things, like walks on the beach with a defibrillator,” he told the New York Times after his surgery. “How much more can you give? Other than, literally, open-heart surgery onstage? Not much. But the only cure you have right now is the honesty of going, this is who you are. I know who I am.”
In a sombre mood soon after, talking to The Guardian newspaper about a comic role in a movie involving death, he said: “In America they really do mythologise people when they die.”
Although known chiefly for his comic roles, it was as the psychologist in 1997’s Good Will Hunting, playing opposite Matt Damon, that Mr Williams earned his only Academy Award. He was also nominated for Oscars for his roles in Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King.
The Marin County sheriff’s office said it had been called shortly before noon on Monday to a home that Mr Williams shared with his third wife, Susan Schneider, in Tiburon, north of San Francisco. Mr Williams was pronounced dead at the scene shortly afterwards. He had last been seen alive at 10pm the previous day.
Fellow comedy actor Steve Martin said in a tweet: “I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.”
Ms Schneider said in a statement: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.”
Additional reporting by Reuters