‘The loneliest man on a lonely planet’: Sam Neill’s heartbreaking memory of Robin Williams

Apr 02, 2023
Sam Neill says Robin Williams had a darkness inside of him. Source: Getty

Content Warning: this article deals with drugs and mental health, which may be triggering for some readers.

Some people come into our lives and leave a lasting impact, and for Sam Neill, that person was the late comedian Robin Williams.

In Neill’s new memoir, Did I ever Tell You This, the Kiwi actor details his friendship with Williams, reflecting on their “great chats” while they shot the 1999’s Sci-Fi film, Bicentennial Man. 

“We would talk about this and that, sometimes even about the work we were about to do,” he wrote, before describing Willaims as “irresistibly, outrageously, irrepressibly, gigantically funny.”

But underneath the funny man exterior, Neill said he could “sense the dark space inside” the Dead Poets Society star, saying he was “the saddest person” he ever met.

“He had fame, he was rich, people loved him, great kids – the world was his oyster,” Neill wrote.

“And yet I felt more sorry for him than I can express. He was the loneliest man on a lonely planet.”

Willaims died by suicide at the age of 63 on August 2014 after severe ongoing depression and Lewy body dementia, which had been previously misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.

A year following his death, Williams’ wife, Susan, told Good Morning America that her husband had suffered from anxiety and paranoia and was put on antidepressants in May 2014.

Physically, Williams was also suffering from stomach pains, constipation, urinary trouble and sleeplessness.

“He said to me, he said, ‘There’s something really wrong with me.’ I said, ‘I know, honey. I know there is. And we’re going to get to the bottom of this. I swear. We’re going to figure this out.’ And inside my mind for the first time, I started to wonder, ‘Are we?’” Susan said.

When asked if he ever talked about dying or taking his own life, Susan said,  “no. Not even – no. No. I mean, he was sick and tired of what was going on, absolutely … and when he got the Parkinson’s diagnosis, you know, I mean, in one sense, it was like this is it. This is what we’ve been –we’ve been chasing something, and now we found it. And we felt the sense of release and relief.”

She recalled finding her husband one morning in the bathroom covered in blood after “miscalculating” the door. After his death, the coroner found he was also suffering Lewy body dementia, which affects vision.

The loss of memory and inability to control his body was incredibly hard for Williams, whose life’s work revolved around his sharp mind and physical comedy.

In 2016, Susan published a letter in medical journal Neurology, titled The terrorist inside my husband’s brain, where she detailed Williams’ debilitating symptoms and touched on their last night together.

“When we retired for sleep, in our customary way, my husband said to me, ‘Goodnight, my love,’ and waited for my familiar reply: ‘Goodnight, my love.’

“His words still echo through my heart today.”

Sadly, Williams took his life the next day leaving behind Susan and his three children Zelda, Zachary and Cody.


MENTAL HEALTH DISCLAIMER: If you or anyone you know needs help: Lifeline — 13 11 14; MensLine Australia — 1300 789 978; BeyondBlue — 1300 224 636; Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467; Headspace — 1800 650 890; Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800

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