Robin Williams Was in Early Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

Robin William‘s widow, Susan Schneider, may have given us some additional insight into his mental state just before his death. In a new statement, Schneider reported that Williams had been diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease:

“Robin’s sobriety was intact. He was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.”

Schneider went on to acknowledge the outpouring of support in the days after Robin’s death, and her hope that after hearing Robin’s story, others suffering from depression will seek the help they need:

“Robin spent so much of his life helping others. Whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film or television, our troops on the front lines, or comforting a sick child – Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid.

“Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched. His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.

“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.”

A number of other celebrities have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, including Michael J. Fox, Mohammed Ali, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Hoskins.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a brain disorder of the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain that control movement called the basal ganglia.

basal_gangliaOne part of the basal ganglia, called the substantia nigra, produces a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is important because it allows for the smooth movement of muscles in the body.

In Parkinson’s Disease, for as of yet unknown reasons,  these brain cells are damaged and stop producing dopamine.  When the level of dopamine drops below a certain amount, noticeable symptoms of PD begin to occur.

What are the symptoms of PD?

These symptoms include:

  • Tremor (shaking) of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity (stiffness) of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Poor balance and coordination

What is the treatment for PD?

Currently,there is no cure for PD.

Treatment primarily consists of drugs that either replace or mimic dopamine, which can lessen symptoms.

More detail about treatment for PD can be found in more recent story about Michael J. Fox.

Surgery may be used as a last resort in a selective group of patients.
For more information, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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