The much loved comedian was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease leading up to his suicide death, his widow has confirmed.
“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” Susan Schneider said in a statement.
Schneider added that the 63-year-old actor was “not yet ready to share publicly” his struggles with the disease which was causing him some anxiety.
In light of this revelation, Parkinson’s experts have been educating the public on the lesser known link between the disease and depression.
It seems that the debilitating nervous system disorder, which causes tremors and slowed mobility, can also have a deep emotional effect on sufferers. In fact more than half of all those with Parkinson’s disease in the United States also experience clinical depression.
“The neurochemicals that are impacted by Parkinson’s disease and the pathways that control motor functions are also integrally involved in the control of mood,” Dr. Irene Richard, a neurology professor at the University in Rochester in New York, told reporters.
“We actually believe that (depression) is part of the disease itself. It’s related to the brain dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease,” Richard added.
Parkinson’s disease occurs when certain neurons (nerve cells) in the brain die or become impaired. Normally these cells are responsible for producing the vital chemical known as Dopamine, which allows for the smooth, coordinated function of the body’s muscles and movements.
Usually, Parkisnon’s symptoms develop slowly and progress over years, as the disease appears once roughly 70 per cent of the dopamine producing cells cease to function normally. Hence why the disease is more common in those 50-75 years of age.
Other effects of the loss of this dopamine in the body in include pain and discomfort in arms or legs, anxiety, depression, slower thinking, memory problems, tiredness and disturbed sleep.
There is a small group, approximately 10 per cent, of Parkinson’s sufferers that will develop the disease earlier on in life. High-profile sufferers of the disease include actor Michael J. Fox, boxing great Muhammed Ali and singer Linda Ronstandt. The latter claimed last year that the disease had robbed her of her ‘singing voice’.
Fox, a noted campaigner for Parkinson’s disease awareness and treatment, took to Twitter to express his shock at learning of Williams diagnosis.
“Stunned to learn Robin had PD. Pretty sure his support for our Fdn (foundation) predated his diagnosis. A true friend; I wish him peace.”
Williams was said to be sober at the time of his death, having battled with numerous addictions to drugs and alcohol over the years and having recently gone to a rehabilitation centre in Minnesota to ‘fine-tune’ his sobriety.