Robin Williams seeing more clearly after surgery, rehab

Cycling / Surgery / Taking a Break

Originally published on March 31, 2010 | USA Today | written by Donna Freydkin

NEW YORK -- Robin Williams, the motormouthed and masterfully quick-witted comedian, has become a man of leisure. "It's so nice having time off right now. There's no rush. Enjoy it. When you have something like heart surgery, you appreciate the simple things, like breathing. I'm taking it a lot easier."

Williams, 58, has recovered from the aortic valve replacement he underwent at the Cleveland Clinic last year.

"I was running down. They looked at my heart and went, 'You've got a blown valve.' A year later, I'm working well. It's kicking hard," he says.

He's back to riding his bike, even tackling the San Francisco hills. And he has a new girlfriend, who accompanied him to the Oscars. "Yes, there's a person. Very lovely, and it's been very nice and very quiet," he says. "Her name is Susan Schneider. Very sweet. Good peeps."

"Good" pretty much sums up Williams' life right now, he says. He's just "chilling," he quips, and promoting his DVD Weapons of Self Destruction, out this week. It was filmed during his 2008-2009 comedy stand-up tour, which Williams says was "great. With a slight break in the middle for heart surgery. Take a little time off and crack the chest. It was fun to get out, before the election and after the election. There was obviously a lot of material."

That includes Williams' rehab stint in 2006. He had started drinking again after 20 years of sobriety. And now that he's sober, Williams riffs on his own problems in his act. "The idea of talking about alcoholism and the surgery -- it's an overview. But even that is kind of a generalization of what it's like to be an alcoholic and come through it."

Williams sought treatment "when I realized I was just destroying everything. When you're having blackouts on a regular basis. Blackouts, I joke, are like sleepwalking with activities. But those are really frightening, where you wake up and you have to have people (tell you what you did). And then you go, 'This is scary.' "

Keeping it private wasn't an option. "I had no choice. I was in rehab and someone sold the story to the Enquirer. Once they know you're there, why deny it?" Williams says. "The whole process after is -- hence the word -- anonymous. You survive, and here's how you can get through it. The object is to help people. It was tough, but in a weird way, (I can say) I'm grateful for it. It really changed my life. I had 20 years sober without any program. I was doing it alone."

Now, Williams is ready to find another movie, on his terms.

"I'm looking. If you have anything, please call. But right now, it's more like, wait, don't rush. The most dangerous time for me was when I was like, 'I gotta keep working.' It doesn't hurt to look harder and take your time."

Williams is both riotous, doing imitations of presidents Clinton and Bush (father and son), and earnest, talking health care reform and the California budget crisis. He's also empathetic, recounting a recent encounter with Old Dogs co-star John Travolta, whose son, Jett, 16, died on a trip to the Bahamas last year.

"He's such a sweet man. He's the human equivalent of a panda. I saw him after the Academy Awards. It was good just to sit with him and say, 'How are you doing, man?' He said, 'I'm OK,' " Williams says.

The father of three -- daughter Zelda, 20, and sons Zach, 26, and Cody, 18 -- can't imagine Travolta's experience. "That's the worst thing that can happen to you, to have a child die before you. It doesn't get any tougher than that. There's such a kindness to him. Sitting there at the Governors Ball, to hang with him for a minute, that was the best moment for me."

Wall of Tributes >