Details emerge in Robin Williams' death

This Dec. 15, 2010 photo released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows actor-comedian Robin Williams, right, with U.S. Army Maj. Gen John F. Campbell, Combined Joint Task Force 101 and Regional Command East commander, before the annual USO Holiday Tour at Bagram Air Field, in Afghanistan. Members of the armed forces have long held special affection for Williams, 63, who died Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 after hanging himself in his San Francisco Bay Area home. Williams never served in the military, but he was a tireless participant in USO shows. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Defense, Staff Sgt. Michael Sparks)


SAN RAFAEL — Robin Williams’ wife last saw him alive Sunday night before she went to bed in a separate room of their Tiburon home overlooking San Francisco Bay.

The next day, thinking Williams was still asleep, the Oscar winner’s wife, Susan Schneider, left their St. Thomas Way house at 10:30 a.m., said Lt. Keith Boyd, assistant chief deputy coroner at the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.

A personal assistant arrived and knocked on Williams’ bedroom door, Boyd said. When Williams, 63, didn’t answer by about 11:45 a.m., the assistant became concerned and walked inside.

Williams was dead, suspended slightly off the ground in a seated position with a belt around his neck, the apparent victim of suicide, Boyd said.

“The preliminary results of the forensic examination revealed supporting physical signs that Mr. Williams’ life ended from asphyxia due to hanging,” Boyd told reporters Tuesday.

Dozens of journalists, some from as far away as Germany, attended a news conference at the Sheriff’s Office in San Rafael, where Boyd revealed new details about the events that led to the discovery of Williams’ body.

An autopsy was conducted Tuesday by Dr. Joseph Cohen at the Napa County morgue. Marin County authorities selected the facility because it offered more security than the private contractor that usually conducts Marin autopsies, Boyd said.

Toxicology tests, which would reveal if Williams had any chemical substances in his system at the time of his death, are being conducted and will yield results in two to six weeks, Boyd said.

Williams had been seeking treatment for depression, Boyd said. Asked whether Williams left a suicide note, Boyd said “We’re not discussing the note or a note at this time.”

He said Williams and his wife were home alone when she went to bed around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Williams went to another room.

The next day, the assistant found Williams clothed, his body suspended off the ground in a seated position, with a belt around his neck that was wedged into a closet door, Boyd said.

The assistant called 911 at about 11:55 a.m. and reported that Williams had hanged himself. He was pronounced dead at 12:02 p.m. by firefighters from the Tiburon Fire Department. The condition of the body indicated Williams had been dead for at least a few hours, Boyd said.

The inside of his left wrist had several superficial cuts and a pocket knife with a closed blade was found near his body, Boyd said. A dry red material, which appeared to be dried blood, was on the blade.

The autopsy did not reveal any injuries indicating Williams had been in a struggle or altercation before his death.

Williams, the star of “Good Will Hunting,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Good Morning, Vietnam” and dozens of other films, had dealt with bouts of substance abuse and depression for years and referenced his struggles in his comedy routines. Just last month, Williams announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program.

The circumstances of the death do not help explain what motivated him, suicide experts said. Understanding that would require a detailed “psychological autopsy” that includes the review of medical and other records, and interviews with family and friends.

These experts stressed that suicide rarely is triggered by a single factor, such as depression or substance abuse. Typically there are at least two such influences, often compounded by acute stress, such as from financial hardship or troubled personal relationships.

“We know from decades of research that there are numerous factors that contribute to suicide risk,” said Michelle Cornette, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology.

Williams was born in Chicago but lived for many years in the Bay Area. His family moved to Marin County when he was a teenager and he graduated from Redwood High School in Larkspur in 1969.

He had ties to Sonoma County, including a sprawling vineyard estate on the Napa border.

His single-level, waterfront home near the Tiburon Yacht Club sits behind a black iron fence and is surrounded by neighboring houses. Flowers and other condolences lay on the sidewalk in front of the gate Tuesday and a green Range Rover SUV was parked in the driveway.

Jennifer Holmstrom, Williams’ across-the-street neighbor, said she met Williams six years earlier and the two had become close friends.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” said Holmstrom, an executive recruiter. “It is very sad.”

Fans flocked to the home to take pictures and pay their respects.

Susan Graham of Oakland brought flowers and a picture of Williams as Airman Adrian Cronauer from the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.” She recalled seeing Williams put on a surprise performance at the Holy City Zoo comedy club in San Francisco in the early 1980s.

People outside the club had “their faces pressed against the glass,” straining to catch a glimpse of him, she said.

“It’s such a loss,” Graham said.

The North Bay Suicide Prevention Hotline of Sonoma County can be reached toll free at 855-587-6373. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is toll free at 800-273-TALK. Sonoma County’s 24-hour psychiatric emergency services hotline is 576-8181.

This story contains information from the Associated Press. You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.