It’s been several years now since beloved actor Robin Williams passed away. But when the legendary comedian died in 2014, he left behind three devastated children: Zak, Zelda and Cody. Of course, they, along with the rest of the world, were floored by the news. And while they all released tribute statements honoring their late father at the time, in June 2019 Zak again paid his respects to Robin in a way that brought tears to fans’ eyes around the world.
But Zak’s initial reaction after his father died was heartbreaking in itself. In a statement released through his dad Robin’s representative, he said, “Yesterday, I lost my father and a best friend, and the world got a little grayer. I will carry his heart with me every day. I would ask those that loved him to remember him by being as gentle, kind, and generous as he would be. Seek to bring joy to the world as he sought.”
In the time since Robin’s tragic suicide, Zak did what his father would almost certainly have wanted: he moved on with his life. The bereaved man also sought to bring joy to the world – just as he had encouraged others to do – via volunteering. And in 2019 Zak reached an important life milestone – and decided that he would use the opportunity to honor his father once more.
When Zak was born in 1983, though, his father Robin was going through a difficult period in his life. Substance abuse was taking a toll on him, but the knowledge that he would now have to support a child inspired the comedian to renounce drugs and alcohol. And he remained committed to sobriety for the first 20 years of Zak’s life – although this was sadly set to change.
In a 1988 interview with Rolling Stone, Robin explained of his addiction, “Six months before Zak was born, I basically stopped everything.” And he also considered his relationship with his young son while talking to the magazine. For instance, when the interviewer asked, “What has fatherhood taught you about yourself?” he replied with a powerful answer.
Robin said he had learned that “most of your actions have consequences with [your] child.” He continued, “And I’ve learned to have the security not to worry that he will love me – as long as I keep the connection strong enough. I’ve learned not to try to force the love. You can’t. All you can do is try to set up a world for him that’s safe and stable enough to make him happy.”
There were a number of other complications that were rocking Robin’s private life, however. Zak’s mother was Valerie Velardi – the actor’s first wife. And when the couple divorced in 1988, it was amid whispers of infidelity. The media reported that Robin had cheated on Valerie with Zak’s nanny Marcia Garces – whom he later married. But in 2018 Valerie admitted that particular rumor was never true: apparently, Robin had only started seeing Marcia once the marriage had effectively ended.
And Robin told Rolling Stone that young Zak took the divorce well. The star said, “He understands it. He sometimes gets confused and calls someone by the wrong name. But we have a good custody agreement, so he comes and goes freely. He knows exactly how many days he’s here and how many days he’s there.”
“Children at [Zak’s] age do not want to deal with the anger and the volatility – or whatever would develop,” Robin continued. “As long as things are peaceable, he’s fine switching back and forth. Also, he doubles down at Christmas: ‘Look, I got this many dinosaurs.’” And the comedian went on to reveal to the magazine a particularly intimate detail about his relationship with his son.
Yes, Robin confessed to Rolling Stone that he performed wacky comedy routines for Zak. He said, “I did a Señor Wences thing for him. I dressed my fist in a napkin and was Mother Teresa. I played her drunk and made her drink water, which I’d spill down my arm. He liked that.”
But Robin also enjoyed some quieter times with his young son as well. The actor told People magazine in 1988, “In the morning I often watch TV with [Zak]. They show those wonderful old Warner Brothers cartoons. To hear a child laugh like that – to see him watch Wile E. Coyote! My God – it’s something incredible!”
Yet Zak was far from the only child vying for Robin’s attention. You see, after tying the knot with Marsha in 1989, the actor had two other children: Zelda and Cody, who were born in 1989 and 1991, respectively. Unfortunately, though, Robin’s relationship with his second wife didn’t last, either. In 2010 they divorced, citing “irreconcilable differences.” But the comedian’s love life was far from over: the very next year, he stepped down the aisle once more.
Yet despite Robin’s express third wedding – this time to Susan Schneider – he remained close to all three of his children. In 2010 during an interview with Little White Lies, the actor was asked what the best thing about being Robin Williams was. He responded, “I’d have to say my kids – they’re amazing. I’m so proud of them on all levels. They make life worth living.”
However, in 2014 the Williams children were forced to witness their father growing more and more unwell. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a disorder that slowly degenerates the nervous system. And at this trying time, Robin’s eldest son Zak was married to an associate director of the NGO Human Rights Watch called Alex Mallick.
Apparently, Robin would sometimes drop by to visit Zak and Alex at their home. And the last time that he did so was at the beginning of August 2014 – just a few days before he died. But Zak reportedly noticed that something wasn’t quite right with Robin and implored his father to stay. He revealed to Vanity Fair in 2014, “We didn’t want someone who seemed like he was in so much anguish to leave. We wanted him to stay; we wanted to take care of him.”
Then on August 11, 2014, Robin was found dead in his room – he had taken his own life. And as soon as the news got out, the film and entertainment world was heartbroken. Heartfelt tributes to the actor subsequently poured in from every corner of the globe, and fans gathered on social media to share quotes from the actor’s most popular movies and their treasured memories of the star.
What’s more, even the President of the United States paid his respects to Robin. Barack Obama said in an official statement, “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in between. But he was one of a kind.”
Plenty of other major tributes took place in the days after Robin’s death, too. For instance, a few days after his passing, Broadway dimmed its lights in honor of him and that night the resident Aladdin musical put on a special performance. And for the Primetime Emmy Awards that August, Robin’s friend Billy Crystal touchingly eulogized him on stage.
“Thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support and love during this difficult time. Our family is deeply grateful of both,” Zak wrote on his Twitter in August 2014. And for their part, his siblings Zelda and Cody released their own statements in which they opened up about their great sorrow.
Zelda, for one, chose to reference her last interaction with her father. She said in a statement, “My last day with him was his birthday, and I will be forever grateful that my brothers and I got to spend that time alone with him, sharing gifts and laughter. He was always warm – even in his darkest moments.”
For his part, Cody – the youngest of the family – wrote in a statement, “There are no words strong enough to describe the love and respect I have for my father. The world will never be the same without him. I will miss him and take him with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life, and [I] will look forward, forever, to the moment when I get to see him again.”
In Zelda’s statement, moreover, she made an earnest suggestion for plugging the hole left by her father. “Not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in [Robin’s] absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.” And at least one person took this advice on board; during the following year, a grieving Zak began pushing himself to the limit.
In particular, Zak started to volunteer at a prison, providing financial help for inmates. On the anniversary of his father Robin’s death, he told Today in 2015, “I come from an entitled background where I could have not worked hard – just coasted for a chunk of my life, up to a point. But I opted to take pride and joy in the work that I do and to establish accountability.”
And as it turned out, Zak harbored a passion for the complex work. He continued, “For me, there’s a set of skills that involves problem-solving and analysis that I find to be enjoyable. It’s developing a different understanding of a market, and it [fosters] a deeper understanding of the economy and the human condition as a whole.”
Zak taught the class along with one of the inmates, Curtis Carroll, whom he said had “chosen to follow a path of constant learning and to develop accountability for his students.” And when the Today interviewer suggested that Robin would probably have backed the project if he’d had the chance, Zak couldn’t help but agree. “I think he would have loved the program and loved participating; we know he’s there in their spirit,” he concluded.
In October 2015 Zak also contributed his time to the Foundation of Hope – a non-profit organization focused on mental illness. And at one of the group’s events, called the Evening of Hope, he said, “Despite his own anguish and struggles, [my father] endeavored to bring light and laughter where there was despair and pain, and it’s his inspiring attitude that fills me with pride every day.”
As for Zak’s personal life, he did eventually split from Alex. But the prison volunteer found love again with a woman named Olivia June – the CEO of women’s community app Hey! VINA – and by the spring of 2019 the pair were engaged with a baby well on the way. Subsequently, in May 2019, the happy couple welcomed a little one into the world and announced their good news on social media the following month.
Olivia posted pictures of the new baby on her Instagram page along with a heartwarming caption. She wrote, “Introducing you to my little family! My fiancé, Zak, and I were so happy to welcome baby McLaurin to the world on May 22. We are beyond thrilled he chose us to be his parents and obviously think he’s the best, smartest, and cutest baby ever!”
And Olivia also took the time to explain why the couple hadn’t revealed the news of their little one right away. She continued, “In life today, we expect everything to be live shared on social media – and many who are close to me are even just learning this news.” For his part, Zak doesn’t interact with social media much either: his own Instagram is a private one.
Again taking to Instagram, Olivia spoke about how Zak had been a huge part of her journey to motherhood, posting, “None of this would be possible without the most incredible and supportive partner a woman could ever hope for. Zak, the headline is true: you’re already and will always be, ‘World’s Greatest Dad!’ Mickey and I are the luckiest.” For those who don’t know, World’s Greatest Dad is the title of a 2009 Robin Williams film.
As we mentioned earlier, Zak and Olivia’s child is called McLaurin – but where did they get the unusual name from? Well, the moniker was actually Robin’s middle name. At birth, you see, the future star was named Robin McLaurin Williams – after his mother. And now the family name had been passed down to his grandchild in tribute to the legendary comic.
Many people posted congratulatory messages on Olivia’s Instagram page, with some of them choosing to reference Robin. For instance, one wrote, “Congratulations mommy and daddy! Love the name tribute, bless your family!” Conversely, another penned, “Beautiful baby and family. Thank you for sharing your happy moment. I loved your dad, and I know he is very happy right now.”
Zelda also posted some sweet family snaps on Instagram in June 2019. She wrote, “News is finally out: I’m an auntie! Meet Mclaurin Clement Williams, aka Mickey, aka Dr. Baby! He’s a squishably cute, pterodactyl-cooing tiny wonder, and I love him so much already. Big shout-out to Mickey on being the fastest swimmer, and huge congrats to [Olivia] and my big bro [Zak] on creating this little joy.”
And it seems that May 2019 was a busy month for Zak for other reasons, too. As well as welcoming a new baby, the prison volunteer also spoke about his father for a campaign called FacesOfFortitude – a project that aims to support those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. He appeared on their Instagram page and penned a moving post about the grief that he had suffered.
Zak also explained what it had felt like to mourn in front of the whole world. He candidly wrote, “There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside.”
Zak also revealed that he had slowly healed in the three years since his father died. He continued, “It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there; I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
And Zak took the opportunity to ruminate on the outpouring of grief that he’d experienced from other people after Robin’s death. He said, “A lot of people wanted to be part of the process for so many reasons… [But] you can’t be there for others until you first have done the work and processed for yourself. Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like.”
What’s more, other people who had known and loved Robin while he was alive have also since taken steps to heal by throwing themselves into important work. After his death, it was discovered the actor had actually been suffering from a condition called Lewy body dementia – not Parkinson’s. And now his widow Susan Schneider is working tirelessly to bring attention to it.
In 2016, for instance, Susan published a piece in the journal Neurology, describing her husband’s last days. She wrote, “Hopefully from this sharing of our experience you will be inspired to turn Robin’s suffering into something meaningful through your work and wisdom. It is my belief that when healing comes out of Robin’s experience, he will not have battled and died in vain.”
For his part, Zak appears to be working to achieve this goal, too – but in a different way. His wife Olivia wrote on Instagram to commemorate Father’s Day, “Mickey and I couldn’t be luckier to have you as [a] dad. You make us laugh, you keep us very well fed, you teach so many things and go above and beyond in every way. The reviews are in, and you’re truly keeping the legacy of ‘Great and Amazing!’ dads alive! We love you!”