Updated 14 August 2014

Robin Williams died of asphyxia by hanging

Preliminary findings show Oscar-winning actor and renowned comedian Robin Williams hanged himself in his California home and died by asphyxia.


Oscar-winning actor and renowned comedian Robin Williams hanged himself in his California home and died by asphyxia, a coroner said on Tuesday based on preliminary findings.

Williams, 63, was found dead by his personal assistant at midday on Monday, suspended from a belt wedged between a door and a door frame in a seated position just of the ground, Marin County's assistant chief deputy coroner, Keith Boyd, told a news conference.

Cuts with dried blood

"Mr. Williams' personal assistant became concerned at approximately 11:45 am when he failed to respond to knocks on his bedroom door," said Boyd.

"His right shoulder area was touching the door with his body perpendicular to the door and slightly suspended. Mr. Williams at that time was cool to the touch with rigor mortis present in his body," Boyd added.

Officials also found a pocket knife near Williams and cuts with dried blood on his wrist that matched the knife blade.

Williams had been seeking treatment for depression, Boyd said. He would not discuss if had left a suicide note.

Read: Robin Williams' death is linked to his ongoing depression 

Funeral arrangements would be decided by the family, Boyd said. His body has been released by the coroner facility in neighboring Napa County.

Boyd would not say if any drugs or alcohol were involved and that the full toxicology report would take several more weeks, stressing that the investigation was continuing.

Comedians, politicians and several generations of fans collectively mourned the death of Williams, famous for his frenetic and freewheeling comedy.

The news of Williams' death rippled across social media, stunning fans young and old and comedians who had been influenced by Williams since he broke out in the 1970s TV comedy "Mork & Mindy" as a strange and lovable creature from outer space.

Flowers are placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star and the hand and footprint in memory of actor Robin Williams on August 12, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Williams had been open about his struggles with alcohol and cocaine and in the past months had entered a rehabilitation center to help him maintain sobriety.

But many questions remained over his final months and what could have led to his apparent suicide.

Read: Did his depression drive Robin Williams to kill himself?

How does death by asphyxiation happen

According to forensic pathologist Dr Dinesh Rao, hanging is a form of asphyxia caused by suspending the body by a ligature which encircles the neck.

The constricting force is the weight of the body, although the whole weight of the body is not necessary and even only a slight force is enough to kill a person. 

When a person asphyxiates, they first experience loss of power and may experience subjective sensations, such as flashes of light and ringing and hissing noises in the ears.

They will experience intense mental confusion and lose all power of logical thought. Even if they could help themselves at this point, it would be too late.

Then the person loses consciousness, which is so fast that it is regarded as a painless form of death.

After that follows convulsions, the face distorts, eyes become prominent and there is 'violent struggling'.

Respiration stops before the heart does, which may still beat for about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Read more

Anti-addiction meds up suicide risk
Why do celebrities commit suicide?
Men more prone to suicide


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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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