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Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams dead of apparent suicide

No laughter was ever loud enough for Robin Williams, a speed-of-instinct comedian whose most unpredictable act was his last.

The Academy Award-winning actor and comedy legend was found dead Monday at his Tiburon, Calif., home, apparently of suicide by asphyxiation. He was 63.

An investigation by the Marin County Sheriff's Office is continuing, including an autopsy planned for today.

"This morning, 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," said Mr. Williams' wife, Susan Schneider. "On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions."

It was an abrupt, stunning end to an extraordinary career, initially built upon quicksilver gags, freely associated and insanely performed. Like his idol Jonathan Winters, Mr. Williams' routines might be mistaken for lunatic ramblings except for their symmetry. Audiences couldn't tell where the jokes were going but assured themselves of a fun trip.

In contrast to his manic sense of humor in public, Mr. Williams reportedly suffered from severe depression, the "tears of a clown" syndrome seldom taken seriously enough.

Mr. Williams entered a rehab facility in July, soon after the cancellation of his CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones. His representatives denied that Mr. Williams had relapsed into addiction first addressed in the 1980s, after the overdose death of his friend and former Saturday Night Live star John Belushi. In addition, Mr. Williams underwent open heart surgery in 2009.

Despite the failure of his television comeback — 35 years after exploding into pop culture as a wacky alien on Mork & Mindy — Mr. Williams' career appeared to be stable. A sequel to his Oscar-nominated role as Mrs. Doubtfire was in the works, and another turn as Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is due in December. Last year, Mr. Williams appeared as President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Lee Daniels' The Butler.

Acting lent a measure of validity to Mr. Williams' early career, when it appeared that comedy improvisation might be the extent of his genius. His 1980 debut, in the seemingly tailor-made role of Popeye, was roundly panned. Mr. Williams stubbornly concentrated on serious roles until 1987's Good Morning Vietnam offered the right blend of pathos and prankster, earning his first of four Oscar nominations as an actor.

A few years later, Mr. Williams won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a sympathetic psychologist in Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting. Most of his best performances — One Hour Photo and Insomnia come to mind — were in the same vein, drastic contrasts to his stand-up comedy persona, as if straining to prove the expanse of his talent, overcompensating for being so naturally hilarious.

But it was onstage where Mr. Williams was an indomitable force of nature, impossible to interrupt so other comedians could only wait for him to wind down. His tireless efforts co-founding the Comic Relief charity program for homeless people was matched only by his performances at the show.

Mr. Williams final stand-up comedy tour, the now-eerily titled Weapons of Self-Destruction, ended his six-year hiatus from the stage in 2008. In 2013, he made his final Tampa Bay appearance at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, casually kibbitzing with fellow comedian David Steinberg.

Comedy in the hands of Robin Williams was a whirlwind that is now sadly, suddenly stilled. So many laughs from perhaps the least quoted comedy genius ever, simply because the jokes flew too fast and furiously for memorization.

The adage for comedians wishing to be taken seriously as actors is that comedy is easy and dying is hard. Here was a performer who made both comedy and acting look easy. It's the dying part about Robin Williams that each of us today is taking so hard.

Contact Steve Persall at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

An airman, a doctor,

a genie . . .

As word of his death spread, tributes from inside and outside the entertainment industry poured in, including this statement from President Barack Obama:

"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."

Robin Williams' many films

Named the "the funniest man alive" by Entertainment Weekly in 1997, Robin Williams brought audiences hours of laughter, putting his imaginative spin on characters in film and television, but he was lauded for his serious roles as well. He won a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire, the therapist who counsels Matt Damon's math genius in (1) Good Will Hunting, and he was nominated for (2) The Fisher King, (3) Dead Poets Society and (4) Good Morning, Vietnam. Here are some of the many movies he was in:

2014: Night at the Museum 3,

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

2013: Lee Daniels' The Butler, The Big Wedding, The Face of Love

2011: Happy Feet Two,

Certifiably Jonathan

2009: Old Dogs, World's Greatest Dad, Night at the Museum:

Battle of the Smithsonian,

Dreams With Sharp Teeth

2007: August Rush,

License to Wed

2006: The Night Listener, RV,

Man of the Year, Happy Feet,

Night at the Museum

2005: Robots, The Big White

2004: The Final Cut, Noel,

House of D

2002: Death to Smoochy,

Insomnia, One Hour Photo

2001: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

1999: Jakob the Liar,

Bicentennial Man

1998: What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams

1997: Deconstructing Harry; Good Will Hunting, for which he won a Best Support Actor Oscar; Flubber; Father's Day

1996: The Birdcage, Jack

1995: Jumanji, Nine Months

1993: Mrs. Doubtfire

1992: Aladdin

1991: The Fisher King, Hook

1990: Awakenings, Cadillac Man

1989: Dead Poets Society

1987: Good Morning, Vietnam

1984: Moscow on the Hudson

1982: The World According

to Garp

1980: Popeye

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Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams dead of apparent suicide 08/11/14 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 11:41pm]

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