Robin Williams dies in apparent suicide; actor, comic was 63

Robin Williams, a comic and sitcom star in the 1970s who became an Oscar-winning dramatic actor, died Monday at 63 in Marin County. The Marin County Sheriff's Office said he appears to have committed suicide.

The news of the beloved actor’s death rocked the nation. Channels broke into their usual programming to make the announcement, and within minutes, Williams dominated online trending topics. Even President Obama noted his passing.

Along with an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry poem, Williams' daughter, Zelda, tweeted: "I love you. I miss you. I will try to keep looking up."

MORE: Read our full obituary

Williams, hailed as a comic genius, was a star of movies and television for more than three decades. He also suffered from substance abuse problems.

The actor "has been battling severe depression of late," his publicist Mara Buxbaum said. "This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."

Williams was found unresponsive at his home in Tiburon around noon Monday, sheriff’s officials said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Dubbed “the funniest man alive” by Entertainment Weekly in 1997, Williams brought audiences hours of laughter, putting his imaginative spin on characters in film and television. He was lauded for his serious roles as well, winning a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire, the therapist who counsels Matt Damon’s math genius in “Good Will Hunting” (1997). He also received nominations for “The Fisher King” (1991), “Dead Poets Society” (1989) and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987).

Williams was known for being open about his problems with cocaine and alcohol over the years.

The actor spent time on a Hazelden campus in Oregon in 2006. He later explained that drinking had gradually become a problem again after 20 years of sobriety.

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump,'" the "Mrs. Doubtfire" star told ABC News in October of that year. "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

This summer, he returned to rehab to "fine-tune" his sobriety.

Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams was accepted into John Houseman’s prestigious acting program at Juilliard along with Christopher Reeve, who became a lifelong friend.

Williams came to Hollywood prominence in the late 1970s with his starring role in “Mork & Mindy,” a spin-off of the then-popular “Happy Days.” Williams played an alien baffled by the ways of Earth, the comedy often resulting from the contrast between how he viewed the world and how the world really worked.

After the show went off the air in 1982, Williams’ reputation for rapid-fire impersonations — not to mention a seemingly bottomless talent for comic improvisation — landed him a number of high-profile stand-up specials as well as numerous film roles. In “Good Morning Vietnam” he played a deejay who ruffled feathers with his truth-spewing, quip-cracking ways.

Although now common, the tear-up-the-script style of improvisation practiced by Williams was unusual in major Hollywood productions, and the actor seemed able to rewrite the rules by sheer force of personality — or, as was frequently the cases where Williams was concerned, personalities. That talent also landed him a gig co-hosting the Oscars in 1986, a turn that further cemented his A-list status.

Williams’ protean comedic skills reached perhaps their apex in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), a cross-dressing comedy in which he played both a crusty older nanny and the divorced father who takes on the character to be closer to his children.

Walt Disney Company chairman Robert Iger said Williams would be remembered for bringing some of the worlds most beloved characters to life. 

"He was a true Disney Legend, a beloved member of our family, and he will be sorely missed," Iger said in a statement.  "We join Robin’s friends and fans everywhere in mourning, and offer our thoughts and condolences to his family during this difficult time."

A melancholy current ran under Williams’ dramatic roles. He played an unconventional teacher in “Dead Poets Society," a doctor who tended to the mentally troubled in “Awakenings" (1990), a disturbed vagabond in “The Fisher King” and a widowed psychologist in “Good Will Hunting." That last role — in which he famously counseled a hotshot Damon while grappling with his own demons — landed him his first Oscar win.

Further demonstrating his persona-stretching skills, Williams also had well-regarded parts playing presidents — as Dwight Eisenhower in last summer’s hit “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and as Teddy Roosevelt in the comic franchise “Night At the Museum,” the latter of which he will reprise for the final time when the Ben Stiller film hits theaters this holiday season.