Written and Directed by Tylor Norwood, Robin’s Wish is a touching, intuitive documentary that recounts the final few years and days of Robin Williams’ life, before his untimely death by suicide on August 11th, 2014. What makes Norwood’s film unique is that this isn’t a hyped, over-dramatic speculative retelling but instead the true story of what actually pushed Robin to take his own life: a currently incurable degenerative disease called Lewy body dementia.
Like so many, Robin was a true idol to me, in both his comedy and dramatic work from Mork and Mindy to Good Morning Vietnam, through to Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, One Hour Photo and beyond, I even visited his commemorative meadow in San Francisco the year before last. Robin had a huge impact on the world and so when it was announced he’d died of suicide, there was shock and sadness in equal measure. While initially the tabloids dived headfirst into speculation over why he’d killed himself, including money troubles, addiction, and depression, they were all far from the truth when it came to the physical health problems that plagued him in his final years.
Robin’s Wish is split between archive footage of Robin doing stand-up, meeting troops, and commenting on the real love in his life, alongside interviews with his wife Susan Schneider Williams, close friends, neighbours, and film colleagues. Welcomingly, the documentary crushes any remaining assumptions over the reasons behind his death by giving us facts and real information. Filmmakers like David E Kelley and Shawn Levy offer their realities over the man they knew, and how they saw his personality change, even when Robin tried to remain professional and kind in everything he was working on. Norwood also lets neighbours and long-time friends share their stories of the man they knew and the differences they saw, as unknowingly Lewy Body dementia slowly took over every part of Robin’s brain and body, moment-by-moment taking away everything he was, which led to his fateful outcome.
While there is sorrowfulness, it’s largely heart-warming to see the affection and compassion everyone had for him, and the love he gave to those in his life and his fans. The saddest part of Robin Williams death is that he didn’t know what was killing him, they diagnosed him with Parkinson’s Disease but – as his wife Susan recalls – she realised in retrospect that there was something beyond ‘just’ Parkinson’s and maybe Robin never disclosed this because he didn’t know, and neither did the Doctors, the reality behind the situation. They didn’t discover the true nature of what was happening until after his death, and then named it as Lewy Body dementia. On this note, Robin’s Wish also tells us the story of Susan’s endeavour to educate more people over the illness, and hopefully begin the journey of being able to find a cure or, at least, find ways for people to recognise the symptoms earlier.
Absolutely packed with poignancy and reflection, the film finds a refreshing balance of tribute and Scientific evidence, enabling the viewer to be informed – as much as remembering the great man himself. It’s also deeply heart-warming to listen to people from all walks of life, and those without any other intentions, to share their stories of his kindness, his empathy, and his desire to help others get through bad times, even when he was going through things himself. Robin Williams was the real deal and Robin’s Wish not only reasserts that belief, but also adds to it, and I’m sure we’d all benefit from a huge embrace of compassion like that right now.