How The Death Of Robin Williams Helped Zachary Levi Take His Own Mental Health Seriously

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains subject matter related to mental health and suicide. If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741) to talk to someone who can help.

In recent years, actor Zachary Levi has become a crusader for mental health. During a Q&A at Los Angeles Comic Con '21, the "Shazam!" star paused questions to check in on the people in the audience, asking if any of them struggled with stress, anxiety, and/or depression. Hands shot into the air. "Yeah, me too — all three," he responded. "You are not alone. Talk about it. Destigmatize mental health. Mental health is like dental health, guys. It starts like a little cavity, then it becomes a root canal. So let's catch them while they're cavities."

Levi has been candid about his own journey with mental health. In a podcast interview with journalist Elizabeth Vargas, Levi discussed his debut memoir, "Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others," in which he details his lifelong bouts with crippling anxiety and depression, which led to him developing "active thoughts" of suicide. During the interview, he also opened up about how he was affected by the suicide of fellow actor Robin Williams.

Robin Williams had a lifelong struggle with depression

The beloved actor Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014 at 63 years old. At the time of his death, he suffered from Lewy body dementia, but he had been misdiagnosed with Parkinson's. Williams' son, Zak Williams, has since spoken out about the late actor's lifelong struggle with depression. During a 2020 episode of "The Dr. Oz Show," he said his father's struggles with depression manifested in addiction at times and he took great lengths to support his mental health:

"It was something that was a daily consideration for him. The main thing for me was noticing how he went through great lengths to support himself while he could show up for others. It was clear that he prioritized his mental health throughout most of his life, at least that I experienced with him."

The "Mrs. Doubtfire" actor's tendency to show up for others is documented. Robin Williams went the extra mile for his Jumanji costars, from protecting child actors Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce from being coerced by the film's producers and director into working overtime, to keeping an unsettled Pierce company while he sat for hours in the makeup chair in preparation for his scenes in which his character turns into a monkey.

'Robin was a hero of mine'

Zak Williams told Dr. Oz that his father's death by suicide ultimately led to him seeking help for his own mental health struggles. The actor's death had the same impact on Zachary Levi. "Robin, he was a hero of mine," Levi told Elizabeth Vargas in the podcast interview while praising Williams' talent and tender heart. "He was a really, truly, deeply empathetic person who really cared about other human beings, and yet was so tortured in his own mind. I think that's maybe partly why he felt so obligated to bring joy into the world. I felt very, very akin to that."

Levi said Williams' death "really rocked" him, adding "because I felt like if he can't make it, I don't know how I'm ultimately going to continue to navigate through this life, unless I can somehow figure out how to not keep falling into these places of depression and anxiety."

Just weeks before he was cast as the titular superhero character in "Shazam!," Levi had a breakdown that led to him checking into a mental health facility for three weeks. Levi told USA Today in June 2022 that he felt compelled to discuss the breakdown and subsequent treatment while promoting the movie because they played an important role in him getting the role. "You gotta heal, and that's a whole life journey." Healing is what Levi is aiming to help others do, whether it through his memoir, discussing his own experiences in interviews, or encouraging fans at comic cons.