Not so funny: Robin’s lifelong battle with depression and addiction

By Kirstin Buick
12 August 2014

Robin’s fans would only have known him as the lovable doctor honking his clown nose in Patch Adams, or the doting crossing-dressing dad in Mrs Doubtfire. But in reality, Robin was anything but the light-hearted characters he played on screen.

For most of his life, the 63-year-old actor battled with severe depression and substance abuse, which resurfaced with a vengeance in recent months.

Robin even spent time in a rehab facility this year to maintain his sobriety. “Robin has been battling severe depression of late,” his publicist Mara Buxbaum said in a statement in the hours after he was found dead at his California home.  “This is a tragic and sudden loss.”

The Chicago-born actor always said he was shy growing up, but making people laugh always drew him out of is shell. He loved making his mother, former model Laura McLaurin, chuckle by mimicking his grandmother. He became more confident in high school when he joined the drama club, and later when he went to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.

Robin got his big break playing the alien Mork in the 70s series Happy Days, which snowballed into Mork & Mindy, a sitcom that focused on his beloved character. It was at the point Robin’s battle with addiction began. He’s admitted to abusing alcohol and cocaine at the height of his Mork & Mindy success.
'You think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn't'

But after the death of his friend, Saturday Night Live star John Belushi, from a cocaine and heroin overdose, Robin got his first “wake up call.” He managed to shake the addiction in 1983, just before the birth of his first son Zachary, and stayed sober for 20 years.

It wasn't until 2003 that he relapsed while filming on location in Alaska, he admitted in a 2010 interview with The Guardian.

"I was in a small town where it's not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going f***, maybe that will help.

“And it was the worst thing in the world. You feel warm and kind of wonderful. And then the next thing you know, it's a problem, and you're isolated. You think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn't."

What was he afraid of, the interviewer asked?

"Everything. It's just a general all-round arggghhh. It's fearfulness and anxiety."

Studies suggest that alcoholism and depression may feed each other, in a vicious circle of sorts, TIME reports. People who suffer from depression are likely to be more susceptible to alcohol abuse, and heavy drinkers are also more likely to suffer from depression.

It was a family intervention three long years later that finally got Robin back on track, and he agreed to go to rehab.

“I ask if he feels happier now,” The Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead wrote. “He says softly, ‘I think so. And not afraid to be unhappy. That's OK too. And then you can be like, all is good. And that is the thing, that is the gift.’"


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