Actor and comedian Robin Williams’ struggle with substance abuse and depression is no longer a secret, and now neither is a report of his one-time acceptance of Jesus Christ.
Movieguide Founder and Chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission Dr. Ted Baehr met with Williams on several occasions at press junkets, and the two discovered they both had grown up with parents who shared similar beliefs, reported Movieguide.
“Both our mothers had been Christian Scientists,” Baehr told WND. “His father was a nominal Episcopalian and mine was unchurched.”
“I shared with him the concrete reality of Jesus and how my life was changed,” Baehr said, noting that when he came to Christ, his own drug abuse stopped immediately. The same happened to Baehr’s father upon his conversion late in life.
Williams had, at one point, “accepted Jesus Christ” in one of the recovery programs, Baehr said, “but he never found the transformation that Jesus brings.”
“He was always searching and never quite finding,” Baehr said.
Williams, who was born in Chicago and lived outside Detroit until moving to San Francisco at 14, would frequently quip about his Protestant upbringing: “I don’t understand the whole fundamentalist thing; you see, I’m an Episcopal; that’s Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt.”
He drew on his Episcopalian background when developing his priest character, Rev. Frank, in the 2007 “License to Wed.”
“Having been a choirboy – and I’m not Catholic – just going back to the old days when I was into going to church and remembering – as a Protestant, which is Catholic-Lite once again – the idea of somebody that could really advise and has something offer,” Williams told CanMag.
“It was just remembering those guys that I grew up with in the Episcopal Church – in which there is no purgatory, just spiritual escrow. That was the beginning of that. And then the idea that he’s pretty much hands on – as much as you can be without being a priest.”
How do celebrities’ beliefs stack up against the Bible? “What Hollywood Believes: An Intimate Look at the Faith of the Famous” shares the spiritual beliefs of over 120 top Hollywood stars from past and present.
It may be in his attempts to beat his alcohol and drug addiction that Williams most actively sought spiritual answers in his life.
In 1983 – shortly before his eldest son was born and after his friend, John Belushi, died from a drug overdose just hours after Williams snorted a line of coke with him at a hotel – Williams went “cold turkey,” quitting alcohol and cocaine on his own – a feat of will he thought might be rooted his mother’s faith and its idea of “mind over matter.”
In later years when he succumbed to alcohol again, rehabilitation programs became a focus of faith.
In 2007, after one month of rehabilitation for alcohol addiction following 20 years of sobriety and three years of relapse, Williams spoke with Kavita Daswani of the South China Morning Post.
Daswani described the actor’s mood as “somber.”
“You get a real strong sense of God when you go through rehab,” Williams said. “Having the idea of a really loving and forgiving God really helps if you’re an alcoholic – someone going, ‘It’s OK. Remember, there was wine at the Last Supper.'”
While he said religion had been an integral part of his childhood, his perspective changed after rehab.
“It’s become much more personal to me,” he said. “Instead of my mother saying, ‘We’re going to church now,’ there’s much more a sense of [religion] coming back to life for me. As a child, I was heavily into religion. I was into the ritual of it. … I grew up in San Francisco where the gospel music is so beautiful. I’m more religious in the sense of an open, compassionate church that’s there to take care of people with outreach programs and counseling. The idea of really working together, that means something. I’m religious on that level, trying to take care of everyone, and the idea of compassion is powerful to me.”
Interestingly, rehab seemed to be one place where Williams was able to control his almost manic free-associating that characterized his comedy and had him always in character.
“Yeah, you start off initially riffing, and kind of being real funny. But the weird thing is, how can you do a comic turn without betraying the precepts of group therapy? Eventually you shed it.”
He described his struggle with alcohol as “one of the coming attractions of hell.”
“You have an idea there’s a dark force when you’re in that space, and it’s totally the opposite of doing the right thing,” Williams said.
It was his drinking, he said, that was largely responsible for the end of his second marriage in 2008, even though at the time he was living sober.
“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from,” Williams told the Guardian. “You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”
It was open-heart surgery in 2009, when surgeons replaced his aortic valve with one from a pig, that forced Williams to face his mortality – something he considered a blessing, he told the Guardian.
“Oh, God, you find yourself getting emotional. It breaks through your barrier, you’ve literally cracked the armor. And you’ve got no choice, it literally breaks you open. And you feel really mortal.”
By early July of this year, Williams was back in a Minnesota rehabilitation facility focused on helping maintain long-term sobriety. His representative told TMZ it was not because he had begun drinking again.
“After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud.”
Six weeks later, Robin Williams was dead.
Remarking on Fox News anchor Shepard Smith’s comment that Williams was a coward for committing suicide, Baehr said, “I don’t believe that. He certainly cut himself off from eternal life and this life.
“I don’t believe in blaming the system for Robin’s death,” Baehr said. “We’re not Marxists. But in this case, he was in dire straits – alimony, a lost TV series and lost income.”
Noting the destructiveness of drugs, particularly in Hollywood, Baehr said “we’ve lost all wisdom.”
“That which has your attention is your God,” said Baehr. “Robin was a very nice man. But whenever I meet an actor who craves attention or drugs, I know there’s a hole in his soul.”
Noting the importance of the local church and the need for personal accountability, Baehr cited several well-known Hollywood actors who have made recent claims to being Christians, only to later be abusing drugs or pursuing some new faith.
Part of what fosters the condition in Hollywood and makes it so difficult to remedy, Baehr said, is the public puts celebrities on pedestals.
“They are not experts about anything,” he said. “They’re waiting for someone to care about them as people, not as performers.”