Celebrities

“It Was Super Painful”: Robin Williams’ Son Opens Up About Dad’s Death in Suicide Awareness Campaign

zachary williams

On August 11, 2014, actor Robin Williams took his own life in his Paradise Cay, California home at the age of 63.

Even five years later, the world still mourns the loss of the legend with a light-up smile, impeccable wit, and one-of-kind ability to bring an audience to tears of joy.

But nobody could know the pain of losing the great Robin Williams quite like his eldest son, Zachary Williams, who recently appeared in a Faces of Fortitude campaign in an effort to spread suicide awareness.

Faces of Fortitude was started by photographer Mariangela Abeo with the intent of offering a “safe space for those touched by suicide.” Abeo got inspiration for the project after sharing her own self-portrait online, reflecting on the death of her brother James Duruz who also died by suicide.

Now, Faces of Fortitude has become an entire photo series featuring others who have been through similar tragedies.

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On Tuesday, Abeo shared her raw interview with 36-year-old Zachary Williams, who has hailed her project as “extraordinary.”

“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this, to balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly,” said Williams of his father’s death. “While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn’t just the survivor network for me, it was grieving with the whole world.”

 

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“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn’t just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse and cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, even venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak Williams and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words and photos from Zak’s session with you all week.

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“The past three years have been healing for me,” he continued. “I started to feel bad for myself, I was seeking solace and healing through my grieving. Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw. It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there. I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”

Abeo said the interview and photo shoot session with Williams was the “most emotional day of [her] project, hands down.”

“I prepared for days before, even venting to one dear friend moments before Zak arrived,” the mental health advocate shared. “Would I say the wrong thing? Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I felt so overwhelmed. Then my friend said something so important: ‘Be yourself, and share your pain. His pain is the same. Remember who you are and why you are there.’ So that’s what I did.”


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Abeo found healing in the common ground she and Williams established as they shared their personal stories with one another:

“In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain.”


If you or someone you know is thinking about harming yourself/themselves or attempting suicide, reach out to someone who can help right away. Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

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Kelsey Straeter
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Kelsey is an editor at Outreach. She’s passionate about fear fighting, freedom writing, and the pursuit of excellence in the name of crucifying perfectionism. Glitter is her favorite color, 2nd only to pink, and 3rd only to pink glitter.

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