Robin Williams bipolar disorder?

I’m continuing my examination of Robin Williams mental state for two reasons. First, I admired his wide ranging talent and have had nothing but good feelings for him over the decades. Second, I’ve spent much of my life thinking about depression and related diseases since people close to me have suffered from such afflictions. I’ve chronicled some of this in Cleft Heart: Chasing Normal.

 Funnyman-in-Chief had bipolar disorder?

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

 Our nation has lost its Funnyman-in-Chief, and this is doubly troubling since so much of the world suddenly seems in turmoil. Williams had a knack for imitating foreign accents. He would’ve helped immensely at this point in time kidding around with the language and demeanor of  Ukranians, Russians, Iraqis, Iranians, and of course, Jews and Palestinians.

While I know diagnosis from afar is silly, I feel for educational purposes that it’s worth pursuing the argument I’ve been making about bipolarity to a conclusion. Anyway, everyone else is weighing in on Robin’s mental state. 

What solidified my belief that Williams was bipolar was a friend’s inquiry as to whether Williams personified “Pagliacci,” the key clown character in the great comic/tragic opera about clowns.

I answered, “Yes, to a degree. All clowns probably have demons and/or childhood issues, though the clowns in Pagliacci deceive and kill one another, not themselves.”

“I see,” my friend replied. So, what were Williams’ clown issues?”

“Like many clowns or funneymen, Williams probably was at war with himself—knowing that his comedic genius was his manic side. If he dampened it too much with lithium or other meds (and self-medications like alcohol), he lost his mania, his ‘gift.’ He walked a fine line.”

“And you think his giddy highs were followed by scary lows?”

“Yes, that’s the natural course of things when one expends a lot of energy in mania. The crashing down. That’s the bipolar cycle.”

“I get it,” my friend said, “Seems like people today are in thrall of high energy people like this: pro athletes who perform at a high level mainly because they’re on pain meds, pop musicians who perform in a manic manner till their stamina runs out, and the like.”

After this discussion, I looked up the definition of bipolar disorder in a handbook put out by the highly-respected National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). On page 2.5 of NAMI’s Family-to-Family Education Program edited by Joyce Burland, PhD, I found that Robin Williams met the criteria for a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.

NAMI’s bipolar disorder criteria.

He possessed both of the key mood symptoms below:
-Abnormally elevated, expansive, high (euphoric)

 He had at least 4 symptoms in the Physical, Behavior and/or Thinking categories

-Increased goal setting and creativity

-Racing thoughts (flight of ideas)

-Rapid shifts of attention

-Recklessness: spending money, bad business investments, sexual misadventures (Williams’ affair or two), etc. (cocaine use)

Symptoms lasting at least 1 week.

His troubles lasted for decades.

From NAMI’s standpoint, then, Williams may’ve been bipolar , at least during  some point in his life.


In the future, I’ll with other issues regarding Williams as well as deal with a different line of argument, one factoring in Williams’ creativity and his newly revealed Parkinsons.


To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.


  1. california medicals says:

    Hi, I have gone through your blog. It’s very informative and helpful for people who suffer from this disorder and also for those whose loved ones are suffering from it. We are also a team of researchers and have been sharing info related to mental health disorders.

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