‘It lays in wait’ – Robin Williams’ lifelong fight

Addiction seemed to stalk Robin Williams, tempting him when he was weak and taunting him when he least expected it.

“It waits,” he told “Good Morning America” in 2006. “It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK. Then you realise, ‘Where am I I didn’t realise I was in Cleveland.'”

Williams, the comic whirlwind known for his hilarious stream-of-consciousness ramblings, was found dead after the 63-year-old hanged himself in his San Francisco Bay Area home and finally silenced the demons that relentlessly targeted him.

On film, he played everything from a genie to a psychiatrist. In life, he battled periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression, opening up about them to journalists with self-deprecating wit and making his struggles fuel for his comedy.

“Cocaine for me was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down,” he told People in 1988.

One of his first wake-up calls was in 1982 when fellow comedian John Belushi died of a fatal drug overdose. Williams briefly partied with the Saturday Night Live star the night he died and his friend’s passing coupled with impending fatherhood forced the comedian to quit cocaine and alcohol cold turkey.

“The Belushi tragedy was frightening,” Williams told People. “His death scared a whole group of show-business people. It caused a big exodus from drugs. And for me, there was the baby coming. I knew I couldn’t be a father and live that sort of life.”

Sobriety lasted 20 years. Then the taunts became overwhelming again.

The Oscar winner spent several weeks in the Canadian city of Winnipeg in the spring of 2004 filming The Big White, playing an Alaskan travel agent nearing bankruptcy. He told The Guardian in 2010 he felt lonely and overworked.

“I was in a small town where it’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, ‘Hey, maybe drinking will help.’ Because I felt alone and afraid,” he told the newspaper. “And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.”

He told Parade magazine in 2013 that his relapse after two decades of sobriety was frighteningly simple.

“One day I walked into a store and saw a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And then that voice – I call it the ‘lower power’ – goes, ‘Hey. Just a taste. Just one.’ I drank it, and there was that brief moment of ‘Oh, I’m OK!’ But it escalated so quickly. Within a week I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street.”

A family intervention – “It was not an intervention so much as an ultimatum,” he told Parade – convinced him to seek alcohol abuse treatment at Oregon’s Hazelden Springbrook center in 2006.

He later told The New York Times that he hadn’t confronted the underlying issues at the root of his addiction.

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“There was still, in the background, this voice, like, ‘Psst,'” he told the newspaper. “So when I relapsed, I went back hard. The one thing I hadn’t dealt with was, how honest do you want to live”

Williams continued his recovery by attending weekly AA meetings. But his second marriage, to film producer Marsha Garces, ended in 2008 – largely because of his drinking, even though by then he was sober.

“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it.”

Recently, a new bout of depression prompted the actor to enter rehab. His publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said at the time that Williams made the decision because he needed to recharge after working for 18 months straight.

Yesterday, the struggle finally ended.

Amid the flurry of messages on social media after Williams’ death was a simple one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and had been retweeted more than 300,000 times by Wednesday morning. It was an image of the big blue genie from Aladdin, which Williams so memorably voiced in 1992.


The Dark Horse heads to prestigious festival

The Dark Horse has been selected for the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival – the same event that propelled Whale Rider to fame in 2002.

The New Zealand movie about chess champion Genesis Potini and his work with youth, will join vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, and Maori-language film The Dead Lands in being shown at the annual festival, considered a key audience for gaining a market overseas.

The Dark Horse, based on the true story of the troubled Potini, premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival and took more than $750,000 at the box office in the first 10 days of its cinema release.

It stars Cliff Curtis as Genesis, and Boy’s James Rolleston as Mana, Genesis’s nephew.

Producer Tom Hern said from Malaysia, showing at the festival would be a huge leg-up for the film, with industry players from all over the world expected to attend. premiere.

“Toronto is a really big annual festival, and it presents a great opportunity for us to pick up a North American deal, so we’re over the moon,” he said.

“There’s a real strong history of New Zealand films showing there as well.”
It will be the second film Rolleston stars in at the festival, with The Dead Lands, about a Maori chieftain’s son who sets out to avenge his father’s murder, also selected.

Toronto will be the third international festival screening of What We Do In The Shadows, directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, after it premiered at Sundance and screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. Eight weeks into its New Zealand release, it has already earned $2.5 million.

New Zealand Film Commission chief executive Dave Gibson said the range of genres captured New Zealand’s broad film-making talent.

“This selection of strong features shows how New Zealand film can truly compete on the world stage.” he said.

The Dark Horse and The Dead Lands will screen in the festival’s opening weekend and What We Do In The Shadows will screen in the closing weekend.


Latta goes easy on alcohol. Yeah, right

Nigel Latta began the third episode of his six-part series reflecting on the drinking habits he adopted during his years as a student at Otago University.

It was also where he began his quest to get to the bottom of New Zealand’s alcohol problem.

Following on from a largely hands-on episode that looked at New Zealand’s education system last week, the experts and the numbers were this week called on by Latta to reveal how New Zealand’s drinking culture has become what it is today.

Latta and his experts put emphasis on the immense financial cost alcohol places on the country. Among the figures presented, it was revealed that New Zealanders spend about $85 million per week on alcohol, but it costs the country about $5 billion dollars per year in damage.

Alcohol is also reportedly cheaper than bottled water.

Further, 80 percent of the country’s plastic surgeries on the face can be attributed to assaults or falls involving intoxication.

A portion of the episode was spent comparing the damage alcohol does to our bodies and our society with that caused by smoking.

The former was reinforced by Latta’s trip to Otago University’s Pathology Museum. Several of Latta’s experts were of the opinion that alcohol causes cancer, the views of whom were seconded by a terminal cancer patient.

Latta also spent a brief period tracking the change in society’s behaviour over the last century. The years 1979, 1967 and 1989 were all cited for notable changes in legislation. The allowance given to supermarkets to sell alcohol was heavily cited, and Professor Doug Sellman put to Latta his belief that New Zealand’s supermarkets are the country’s ‘biggest drug dealers’, given that 70 percent of alcohol originates from them.

Sellman also compared alcohol to a Class B drug being sold on a supermarket shelf alongside similar drugs such as morphine.

Sir Geoffery Palmer shared his disappointment with Latta over the government’s handling of a Law Commission report which recommended several ways the country’s drinking culture could be mitigated, despite admitting the changes he helped introduce in 1989 were wrong.

Latta also revealed how he was approached by the New Zealand Government Affairs Lobbyist for the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, offering to be of any assistance that she could, though as discussions on subject matter progressed, that offer disintegrated, and no one fronted.

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In dealing with the subject of education, Latta went on to contact the head of their education initiative, The Tomorrow Project, responsible for the education website cheers.org.nz. In a tense debate, Latta presented his opinion that the initiative wasn’t enough, and had an agenda. He went further to determine that education doesn’t work anyway, a view shared by recovering alcoholics and experts he spoke to.

Though Latta touched on marketing on a couple of occasions, the final minutes of the hour were devoted to the alcohol producers themselves, with the primary focus being that the country’s alcohol manufacturers are owned by multinational corporations led by Mitsubishi and Heineken. Latta used the Speights brand as an example of this. Our country’s free trade agreements were also added to the debate.

Over the hour, Latta concluded that alcohol in New Zealand is a complex subject that clearly involves substantial amounts of money, large corporations, and is heavily influenced by politics.

Latta was in favour of the recommendations of the 2010 Law Commission report into the subject, which recommended limiting availability, increasing the drinking age and price, and restricting advertising and marketing.

As with my past pieces on Nigel Latta’s series, I’ve been careful to leave my personal views out of this one also as it is my belief that the viewer needs to come to their own conclusions from what has been explored in this episode. Latta presented an hour that was more thoroughly researched than the previous episodes of his series to date, and a highly qualified panel of experts all supported his opinions and the data presented.


Robin Williams, we remember you

Following the shocking death of actor and comedian Robin Williams yesterday, we asked our readers to share their memories of the star.

Below are some of the contributions we received. If you’d like to share your tribute to Williams, or tell us why you loved one of his movies so much, just click the green button below.

View more reader tributes here.

Sarah- Hadfield:


Lorde, Taylor Swift spice up their friendship

New Zealand’s Lorde and American sweetheart


Robin Williams’ idea of heaven

Robin Williams once said he hoped there was laughter in heaven.

Williams took his own life yesterday, aged 63.

During a 2001 interview on Inside the Actor’s Studio, host James Lipton asked Williams: “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates”

Barely missing a beat, Williams replied: “There’s seating near the front. The concert begins at five. It’ll be Mozart, Elvis and anyone of your choosing.”

He then added, “If heaven exists, to know that there’s laughter, that would be a great thing.

“Just to hear God go, ‘Two Jews walk into a bar … ‘.”

The clip of the interview resurfaced as the world mourned the death yesterday of the 63-year-old comedian.


Robin Williams’ assistant found body

The iconic comedian Robin Williams made two attempts on his life in his final hours, according to details released by the Marin County Sheriff’s Department.

Lieutenant Keith Boyd said Williams was found in a bedroom by his assistant about noon on Monday (yesterday morning, NZT). Boyd said toxicology tests will be performed and the investigation is ongoing.

There was evidence Williams had tried to harm himself in the hours before his death, Boyd said.

Sheriff’s officials said yesterday preliminary investigation determined the cause of death was suicide. Williams was 63 and had periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression.

Williams’ press representative Mara Buxbaum said the actor had been battling severe depression recently. Just last month, Williams announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment programme.

Coroner’s officials say he was last seen alive at home about 10pm on Sunday (NZT 5pm Monday).

Shortly before noon (local time) the next day, the Sheriff’s Department received an emergency call from the home, where the star of Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam and dozens of other films was pronounced dead.

Williams made reference to his substance abuse and depression in his comedy routines, including when he sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse that followed 20 years of sobriety.

Williams joked: “I went to rehab in wine country to keep my options open.”

Likewise, when word spread about his struggles with drugs in the early 1980s, Williams responded with a joke that for a time became a catchphrase for his generation’s recreational drug use: “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you are making too much money.”

Word that he had killed himself left neighbours stunned and grief-stricken.

Noreen Nieder said Williams was a friendly neighbour who always said hello and engaged in small talk. Nieder said she felt comfortable enough to approach him and ask him about his latest stint in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

“He was very open about it,” Nieder said. “He told me he was doing well.”

Fans and friends placed bouquets, candles and personal notes in front of the locked gates of Williams’ house.


  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling

  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 – Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people

  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.

  • Tautoko: 0508 828 865 – provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.

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  • Alcohol & Drug Helpline


Fox anchor called Robin Williams ‘coward’

Fox News’ Shepard Smith is being slated after he speculated on air that Robin Williams may have been a coward following his death by suicide.

Smith made the comment on Monday night (yesterday, NZT) during coverage of the Academy Award-winning actor-comedian’s death. He was speaking about how Williams’ self-inflicted death might affect his three adult children.

Critics took to social media after Smith said Williams’ children were giving him so much joy, “and yet something inside you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward, or whatever the reason that you decide you have to end it”.

Following the backlash Smith apologised in an interview with Mediaite.

“… If any of his family members and friends were to have seen me use the word ‘coward’, I would be horrified. I would just to apologise to the end of the earth to anyone who might think that I meant to openly call him a coward.

“To the core of my being, I regret it. It just came out of my mouth. And I’m so sorry. And to anyone and their families who see that, I am sorry.”

Shepard Smith was just getting tired of being called the only sane person on Fox.

— Dan Kennedy (@dankennedy_nu) August 12, 2014

How does Fox choose who and why to criticize: Cowardice Expert Shepard Smith Calls Out “Coward” Robin Williams http://t.co/n48PRbexO0

— Ricky Camilleri (@RickyCam) August 12, 2014

It’s pretty clear that @ShepNewsTeam knows nothing about depression and even less about empathy.

— Sean Baptiste (@SeanTheBaptiste) August 12, 2014

I’ll show @ShepNewsTeam this text I got from Mom at midnight, a woman who didn’t think I’d see another birthday: pic.twitter.com/yqUGY62kei

— Megan Armstrong (@meganKarmstrong) August 12, 2014

@JIDF @ShepNewsTeam @FoxNews Just goes to show you how ignorant people are about depression. Depression strikes the very brave too

— Robin Spielberg (@robinspielberg) August 12, 2014

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– AP


Sinead O’Connor: No one’s seen my womanhood

Sinead O’Connor says nobody has ever seen her looking like a woman.

The musician hit headlines after an image of the cover for her new album I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss was released.

O’Connor thinks the picture, which shows her with shoulder-length black hair, shocked so many people because she has never particularly been identified as a woman.

“Nobody had ever seen me with hair. Nobody had ever seen me looking like a woman,” she told USA Today magazine.

“Nobody’s ever seen that side of me musically, either. I’ve always been the warrior woman. I’ve never particularly been the soul-romantic woman.”

The record – O’Connor’s 10th studio album – also represents a new sound for her. The 47-year-old explains that her new LP was inspired by some of her American blues heroes, namely Freddie King, Elmore James and Buddy Guy.

“For two-and-a-half years, I’ve been obsessed with nothing but blues,” Sin


An invisible bullet

Any remnant illusion of art being insulated from politics was given a shake-up in this part of the world earlier in the year. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the chairman of the Sydney Biennale and its major sponsor Transfield Holdings, resigned. Transfield withdrew all involvement after a group of biennale artists threatened a boycott, due to spin- off Transfield Services being managers of the controversial offshore Australian refugee detention centres.

The complex tentacles of investment and involvement of major companies internationally mean no-one is immune to considering questioning the ethics of the forces that shape their lives. We are all part of the network. The question is, at what point does it stop being comfortable for us Some, for example, might even baulk at the involvement of Wellington City Gallery principal sponsor EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in the “optimising” of the performance (as its website puts it) of the mining, oil and gas industries.

This morning my Facebook feed alerts me to the fact that the New Zealand Super Fund has invested in Boeing, a major arms supplier who sold Israel fighter jets and helicopters that have been used in attacks on Gaza.

Artists have choices as to how they realise their cultural capital. To boycott, or use the stage given to them to make visible and tease out the complexities of these issues. German artist Hito Steyerl opts for the latter in her impressively inventive, complicated yet compelling lecture Is a Museum a Battlefield. It has just finished screening at Adam Art Gallery in Wellington, but can still be viewed online on Vimeo. In this dazzlingly playful merging of documentary, fiction and art practice, with the artist as performer-writer, Steyerl does what she calls “reversing the bullet”. Steyerl lost a friend who had joined the Kurdish rebel group the PKK in Turkey to a battle in 1998. Finding out where the battlefield was, she made a documentary artwork. Taking shells found on the field, she traced the bullets back to their manufacturer. She found it was a major sponsor of a Chicago museum where the artwork she made was being screened.

Following an invisible bullet back from that battlefield, among many other things she follows the arms manufacturers’ involvement in the arts, taking us on a long, circuitous trajectory, with asides both humorous and deadly serious. Where reportage stops and artistic licence starts is left deliberately hard to detect, itself a comment on the reliability of words and images.

As we watch Steyerl speak at the 2013 Istanbul Biennial, outside (we are told) demonstrators are being tear-gassed and hounded by armoured vehicles supplied by one of the major biennial sponsors, also suppliers in the fight that killed her friend.

Seen from Google Earth, military hardware-makers Lockheed Martin’s Berlin headquarters is exactly the shape of one of the missiles shot. It is designed by Frank Gehry, famous for his Guggenheim museum, the digital technology used to design museums adapted from that used for military aircraft.

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Steyerl points out that museums like the Hermitage and Louvre were once feudal stockpiles, stormed to become public places. She suggests they need to be stormed again. Quite how, she leaves hanging.

The work is rich and densely packed, with poetic flights of logic, using the analogy of a bullet that can bend. Yet it’s a ricochet kick back from the digital cloud hanging above all of us. Steyerl’s artistic flight gives us the perspective to consider our own compromised position. This is compelling art for our times, finding spaces to whistle its reverse bullets through. If the museum isn’t literally being stormed yet, young artists here are starting to treat it as a place to highlight the connections.

Two now showing at Wellington’s Enjoy Gallery touch on some similar documentary and thematic ground as Steyerl, if lacking her material or conceptual complexity. With a bank of TV monitors on the floor crudely mimicking a camera surveillance centre, Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh has collected together public and media shot footage of Michael Jackson’s funeral motorcade, anonymous black vehicles passing down a barren freeway.

Like Steyerl, there’s an interest in the impact of mobile technology and social media, and the capacity for it to be controlled.

The effect of this work seems deliberately dulling. Asdollah- Zadeh aims to draw attention to the way documentation of social unrest during Iran’s disputed elections in 2009 was censored, and both social and mainstream media worldwide were then overloaded by news of Jackson’s death. Iran was forgotten. I found the work’s reliance on a flyer to make this point problematic, but the sinister funereal mood of the work and the comment it makes on our media lingers.

Neatly paired in its use of found digital historic footage with this, yet a rather simple collage to my eyes, is Angela Tiatia’s Cream. It brings together YouTube footage of riots and protests in Europe in 2012 reacting to austerity measures with film of the sale at auction that same year of Edvard Munch’s The Scream for a world- record price.

While Munch’s figure screams, seemingly at the horror of the world, the painting itself is claimed as a spoil of a rich private buyer, to the applause of a large audience as the hammer falls.


Like poetry tiles on a fridge, Grant Stevens has a talent for rearranging the banal language of our self-obsessional lifestyles to reveal through visual poetry genuine emotion beneath. In a patchy show, Supermassive is an impressive, witty, large, four- channel video in which lists of self-affirmations and other written hot air become significant, shifting galactic cloud clusters. What We Had Was Real, Grant Stevens, City Gallery, Wellington, until September 6.

– The Screen, Angela Tiatia and Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh, Enjoy Gallery, Wellington, until August 30.

– The Dominion Post