If Williams was bipolar, he wasn’t alone.

Robin Williams

I knew Robin Williams’ death by hanging would be as hard for me to process as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent tragic death at age 46. That’s because a central character in my memoir, Cleft Heart, may’ve battled the black dog of depression as some allege Williams did. My family—and my study of psychology in college and med school—have sensitized me over the years  to the complexities of mood disorders, esp depression and manic-depression (called bipolar disorder today). My guess from afar—tho those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area often spotted Williams ‘cuz he lived here—is that he suffered from bipolar disorder. While we all knew about his manic phases, he and his intimates may have kept his depressive ones under wraps until recently.

What is bipolar disorder?

Comedian and actor Robin Williams seated.

Robin Williams

Bipolars typically experience wide mood swings— the highest of highs alternating with the lowest of lows—and these swings may last from anywhere from a few hours  to a few months.

During depression, bipolars feel extreme sadness and often helplessness and hopelessness. At these times, they may not feel any pleasure from activities they used to enjoy.
During mania, bipolars feel extreme happiness and hyperactivity. Unfortunately, they often also have racing thoughts and are unable to sleep very well. They may talk a lot, shop a lot, engage in risky behavior, etc..

They may try to self medicate at different points with uppers (cocaine) and downers (alcohol). Williams admitted problems with both drugs.

Any other celebrities bipolar?

Susan L. Ruth of Communities Digital News reveals the following about many well-known figures in her recent blog:”Many famous people are believed to have been affected by bipolar disorder; the National Institute of Mental Health reports that it affects 5.7 million American adults.

Jon Hamm of Mad Men revealed his depression after his father’s death.


Owen Wilson attempted suicide in 2007, was reportedly due to depression.


Billy Joel has battled alcoholism and described falling into a “deep mental fog” after 9/11.

  • Depression is so common among comedians, including Richard Pryor, Richard Jeni and Artie Lange, who all attempted suicide — with Jeni succeeding. At the Hollywood Laugh Factory, depression in comedians is so common that the club has an office, with couch and therapists available to the performers.[emphasis added]
  • The erratic behavior of eccentric and creative people has often been speculated to come from bipolar disorder. Although is not known if there is a higher incidence of mental illness among celebrities, a number of other well-known persons have suffered from bipolar disorder:

    Winston Churchill

    Winston Churchill’s family had a history of mental illness. His father displayed psychotic episodes during his life and his daughter, Diana would ultimately die of a suicide in 1963…

    His friend Lord Beaverbrook described what sounds like a bipolar sufferer when he said that Churchill was either “at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression”.

    Jim Carrey

    After his break up with Jenny McCarthy in 2010, Carrey stayed up frantically posting to his twitter account until 4 a.m.

    Carrey made a joke during an Oprah Winfrey interview that he only acted this way when he was on the “upside of his bipolar disorder”.

    Carrey told a newspaper in an interview that his depression was the motivator for the comedies that he produces today. 

    Catherine Zeta-Jones

    Zeta-Jones has been open and honest with the public about her bipolar disorder, taking some of the stigma out of the illness. She has been dealing with bipolar disorder for many years, but it came into the public eye after her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

    The cancer diagnosis triggered a bipolar episode, and due to that she voluntarily checked herself into a treatment facility. She suffers from bipolar disorder II, a variant of the disorder in which the mood swings are not as severe as in other bipolar disorders

    Ben Stiller

    Stiller told GQ magazine,”I have not been an easygoing guy. I think it’s called bipolar manic depression. I’ve got a rich history of that in my family. I’m not proud of the fact that I lost my temper. Sometimes you just [expletive] up.”

    Both of Stiller’s parents have openly spoken about their own treatment for depression, though neither has ever reported treatment for bipolar conditions.

    Richard Dreyfuss

    Dreyfuss first spoke publically about his bipolar disorder during the 2006 documentary, “The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.”



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.

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