Updated: 08/14/2014 4:07 PM
Created: 08/14/2014 3:58 PM WDIO.com
By: LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease and was sober at the time of his suicide, his wife said Thursday.
In a statement, Susan Schneider said that Williams, 63, was struggling with depression, anxiety and the Parkinson's diagnosis when he was found dead Monday in his Northern California home.
Schneider did not offer details on when the actor comedian had been diagnosed or his symptoms.
Williams' death shocked fans and friends alike, despite his candor about decades of struggle with substance abuse and mental health. With Parkinson's, Williams faced shouldering yet another challenge.
Parkinson's disease is an incurable nervous system disorder that involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Tremors, sometimes starting out in just one hand, are among the early symptoms.
It can also cause rigid, halting walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia. Symptoms worsen over time and can often be treated with drugs.
Actor Michael J. Fox, who has long had the disease, is known for his efforts to fund research into it. Pop star Linda Ronstadt revealed in 2013 that she had Parkinson's and said the disease had robbed her of her ability to sing. Boxer Muhammad Ali, the late radio personality Casey Kasem and the late Pope John Paul II are among other well-known figures diagnosed with the disease.
"Robin's sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson's disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly," Schneider said.
Parkinson's affects about 1 million people nationwide, 6 million globally. The cause isn't known but genes are thought to play a role.
There is no standard test for Parkinson's; doctors rely on symptoms, medical history and neurological exams to make the diagnosis.
Dr. Tanya Simuni, director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern University's medical school in Chicago, said patients often react to the diagnosis with surprise and despair.
Depression is often present even in early stages and can sometimes precede tremors that help doctors make the diagnosis, Simuni said.
Referring to Williams, she said it's important to emphasize that not everyone who is depressed is at risk for Parkinson's, "especially in this tragic case."
She noted that many can live for years without severely debilitating symptoms, but also that 20 years after diagnosis, as many as 80 percent develop dementia. Antidepressants are among drugs commonly prescribed for the disease, along with medication to help control jerky movements.
Dr. Christopher Gomez, neurology chairman at the University of Chicago, said while it makes sense to think that a diagnosis could make someone feel depressed, depression and Parkinson's have a deeper, more organic connection. They are thought to affect the same regions of the brain, although their neurological relationship isn't well understood, he said.
"It's downright curious that there's so much depression in Parkinson's," Gomez said.
Williams had publicly acknowledged periodic struggles with substance abuse, including alcohol. Recently, depression prompted him to enter rehab.
Schneider said that those who loved Williams are taking solace in the outpouring of affection and admiration for him.
"It is our hope in the wake of Robin's tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid," she said in her statement.
Williams, whose comic brilliance first gained wide attention on the 1980s sitcom "Mork & Mindy," evolved into a respected dramatic actor who starred in films such as "Good Will Hunting," for which he earned an Oscar, "Dead Poets Society" and "Mrs. Doubtfire."
He was invariably upbeat in public and with his friends and colleagues, and was known for his philanthropic efforts and support for U.S. troops and veterans.
___ Associated Press Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Woman Charged with Murder after Stabbing in Stoney Brook Township
There is new development in the murder case on the Fond du Lac Reservation. The husband of the victim has been released, and he is facing no charges. Instead, the woman who police had been searching for, Lydia Marie Barney, has been charged with second degree murder.
New York Officials: Doctor has Ebola, 1st in City
A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus, according to preliminary test results, city officials said Thursday. He's the fourth confirmed case in the U.S. and the first in the nation's biggest city.
Minn. Officials Walk Through Mock Ebola Scenario
More than 100 representatives from several Minnesota agencies are going through a mock exercise to review the state's preparedness in the event of a case of Ebola.
No Injuries in Early Morning Esko Structure Fire
Deputies say there were no injuries in an early morning structure fire in Esko Thursday. Crews responded to the 200 block of Nelson Road around 4:30 a.m. Deputies said the cause of the fire was not suspicious.
1 Dead, 1 Arrested in Cass County Crash
An Aitkin County man is in custody and another person is dead after a two-vehicle head-on collision in Cass County.