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Robin Williams Dead at 63; New Prime Minister Named in Iraq; Obama Pledges Support for New Iraqi PM

Aired August 12, 2014 - 08:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The amazing video you just have to see.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the only protection we have right now, to protect the aircraft, and its precious cargo.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, another night of violence over the shooting death of an unarmed teen at the hands of police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a good boy. He didn't deserve none of this.

PEREIRA: Tear gas fired at a crowd of protestors, a store looted and torched. With the FBI now investigating, can a community in Missouri get answers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your warning. Leave the area. Disperse!

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.


BOLDUAN: Good morning, and welcome once again to NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, August 12th, 8:00 in the East.

Robin Williams is being remembered this morning a comedic genius. But the man who never seemed to struggle to make us laugh seems to have lost his struggle with depression. Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide.

For decades just the sound of his voice would make you laugh. But now with his death, the nation of fans is left with nothing but questions and sadness reflecting on his work and wondering what else might have been.

Let's begin this hour with Dan Simon who is near Williams' home in California, with the very latest.

Good morning, Dan.


Robin Williams was a fixture in San Francisco, most recently, he moved to the suburb of Tiburon, where in front of the house where you can see the beginning of a makeshift memorial. Emergency crews arrived just before noon yesterday and that's when they found Williams unresponsive.


SIMON (voice-over): This morning, the world reeling over the shocking death of Hollywood comedic legend Robin Williams. The Oscar winning actor apparently committing suicide according to investigators. Death due to asphyxia inside his San Francisco Bay Area home Monday morning.

Williams was last seen alive by his wife, Susan Schneider, the night before. "I lost my husband and my best friend," said Schneider in a statement released Monday, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists.

The 63-year-old had a long history of alcoholism and drug addiction, but was recently battling severe depression according to his media representative, entering a 12-step rehab stint in July in order to maintain his sobriety. His sudden death leaving Hollywood and fans stunned.

CONAN O'BRIEN, TV HOST: This is absolutely shocking and -- and horrifying and so upsetting on every level.

SIMON: Fellow comedian Conan O'Brien visibly emotional when he broke the news to his audience, right before wrapping his late night talk show.

O'BRIEN: We're so very sorry to have to report this to anybody who's hearing it for the first time. And we're going to end our show now and thank all my guests and good night and God bless Robin Williams.

SIMON: Williams' last Instagram post was two weeks ago, uploading an old photo with his 25-year-old daughter, Zelda Williams, as a child wishing her a happy birthday.

Monday night, Zelda posted a quote from a French poet with a message about her father, writing, "I love you, I miss you, I'll try to keep looking up."

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: We're very sad. We're mourning the loss of such a great man. He was also a friend and I admired him. And he's a legend. He's unbelievable.

SIMON: Thousands of fans and celebrities also taking to social media to express their sorrow. From President Obama tweeting, "He was one of a kind", to Billy Crystal simply writing, "No words."

Several films featuring the late star are slated to release in the coming months, including "Night at the Museum 3."

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States of America.

SIMON: The legendary comic and actor leaves behind a wife and three children. (END VIDEOTAPE)

Back here in Tiburon, California, where Williams was often seen talking to kids in the neighborhood and riding his bike, an autopsy is scheduled to be performed sometime today and authorities say they're going to hold a news conference where they'll release the latest information at 2:00 Eastern Time.

Kate, John, we'll send it back to you

BOLDUAN: All right. Dan, thanks very much for that.

BERMAN: Obviously, this tragic news all over the papers today, the headlines here. This is "USA Today", "Death of a comic genius."

You know, the word "genius" is tossed around a lot describing people, but hearing from other performers today and people all around the world talk about Robin Williams, it applies here, because what he had and what he did was different. He was performing at a different level comedically especially, and he was doing it for four decades.

We have Nischelle Turner to look back at this remarkable career.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and he sustained it for four decades, so it wasn't like it was him here and there and a dribble here and there. He sustained this genius for four decades, so many accolades, so many laughs. So, let's take a look back at the life of the man that "USA Today" and so many have dubbed a comic genius.


TURNER (voice-over): It was 1978 when Robin Williams was unleashed to the world.

And the high octane Mork from the planet Ork in "Mork and Mindy," Williams became a household name.

WILLIAMS: I was fighting myself, I was fighting myself, you said, and that's all right stop, stop, I'll choose between you.

TURNER: Born in 1951, the Juilliard schooled actor proved he could do more than make people laugh, unveiling his dramatic side for the first time in 1982's "The World According to Garp." That serious side earned him Oscar nominations for "The Fisher King."

WILLIAMS: Good morning, Vietnam!

TURNER: "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Dead Poets Society."

WILLIAMS: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. The Latin term for that sentiment is carpe diem.

TURNER: He finally won his only Oscar statute in 1998 for "Good Will Hunting."

WILLIAMS: This one, yes. The other ones were just foreplay.

TURNER: Delighting a younger generation in the '90s, he was the voice of the dazzling genie in Disney's "Aladdin."

And played the child-like dad in disguise as Mrs. Doubtfire, but Williams never stopped being funny, even when the topic seemed serious. He helped launch and co-hosted eight telethons over 20 years to help the homeless.

WILLIAMS: Remember that the money you're donating is going directly to homeless people. I have that incredible voice.

TURNER: Comic relief raised more than $50 million. And even when he talked about his battles with drugs and alcohol, he talked about them with humor.

WILLIAMS: I was a drunk.


WILLIAMS: Well, that's nice of you to say that.

TURNER: He took three trips to rehab, most recently this summer. He talked about the process on "Larry King Live" back in 2007.

KING: What happens in rehab?

WILLIAMS: What happens? You dry out. What happens is people basically start the process of just saying no and being among others, you know, and learning that you're not alone and working on giving up.

KING: Do you lose your sense of humor in it?

WILLIAMS: No, you find it. You're there with people who have a great sense of humor.

KING: So you're funny there, too.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. You got to be.

TURNER: With his joyful energy and wacky humor, he was the definition of full of life. Even now, his comic legend is destined to endure.

JAMES LIPTON: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

WILLIAMS: There's seating near the front. The concert begins at 5:00. It will be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing. Or just if heaven exists, to know that there's laughter, that would be a great thing. Just to hear, God goes, two dudes that walk into a bar --


TURNER: And it's that voice, that laugh and that wit what will be missed. Robin Williams leaves behind four completed projects that are slated

to be released later this year and into next year. The first one "Night at the Museum Part 3", that is slated to be released on December 19th, and "Merry Friggin' Christmas", that will be opening November 7th. The studio tells us that is still on track for distribution then. It won't be wide released though. Also, the movie "Boulevard" debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and also he'll be in "Absolutely Anything", which is a live action film that will be released in early 2015.

And even though it was in the early stages, we also know that Robin Williams had signed back on to apprise his role in "Mrs. Doubtfire 2" -- John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Nischelle.

But Robin Williams was a terrific actor. But as a comedian there was a dazzling imagination and dazzling skills and improvization.

Look at this.


WILLIAMS: What is a cruise missile? What is a cruise missile? A cruise missile goes, look, a city, let's destroy it!

Every time I do that, I feel like Richard Simmons. Let's go girls, let's go! Five, six, seven, and move it!


BERMAN: Hal Sparks is an actor and comedian who worked with Robin Williams just weeks ago. Hal joins us now.

Hal, thanks for being with us.

You know, you and I of a certain age. We are men in our 40s. Robin Williams, a generation ahead of us.

Growing up as a comedian yourself, what did Robin Williams mean to you?

HAL SPARKS, COMEDIAN, DIRECTOR, ACTOR: Well, he established a new standard for comedians. There was a period to which comedians were sequestered in a corner and emergency in case of emergency break glass and we would come out and tell jokes. He made it possible through "The World According to Garp" and the other work that he did, you know, afterwards, to establish that comedians could present a dramatic side and all that. I wouldn't actually have anywhere close to the career I have if it wasn't for him being on the vanguard of that.

You know, "The World According to Garp", the depth of work that he showed as an actor almost eclipsed his comedy in that moment and that was a first for Hollywood in a lot of ways. You know, they couldn't dismiss him in that way. Here's a man literally as whacky as they came on a sitcom, and then

from that, you know, turned it into a depth of character and warmth in a dramatic way that heralded him with every other dramatic actor, he was on par with anybody else's in my opinion.

BERMAN: He go from Mork --

SPARKS: As a comedian and Mork, I mean, literally, in the script in Mork they'd say Mork does his thing. Robin would -- I mean, there was no way to corral that part of him. He was like a coiled spring.

BERMAN: There was no ceiling, I mean, almost no ceiling to his abilities as a comedian. No sense of what he could do. He could do almost anything.

You see it when you see the footage of Billy Crystal on stage here, Whoopi Goldberg. I mean, these people are funny and they look at Robin Williams, I am not worthy. What he does is just different.

You were in a show with him. What was that like?

SPARKS: Yes, we were doing set list and it was one of the nights where, you know, it's an improvised standup show and they throw as many monkey wrenches into your act as they possibly can during the course of the show. That's how it works.

It's one of the things most comedians look at it as walking a tight rope, the hardest possible version, you know, unprepared standup set. That was Robin's forte. We had finished the show, patting ourselves on the back for a reasonable show and feeling good about ourselves until Robin -- we realized Robin was in the audience hanging out back stage and then came up and did a set.

It was -- it was on a completely different level. It just was. You know, he could own a space as a comedian that was fearless, you know, and it was a beautiful thing to watch because I felt always and, you know, there will be a lot of talk, I know nothing about his struggles with depression on a personal level. He always seemed such a joy.

But it seemed to me he was so empathetic about his audience. Instead of being one of the comedians where I want to you see me, I want you to notice and like me, it never seemed to come from that. It seemed to come from a space of I know you're having a rough week and I know it's my job to make you forget that for a time, and it was -- I felt that any depth of sorrow or kind of depth of character that you could really feel in his presence, it was definitely there in every word he said, came more from his caring about his audience. It was a beautiful thing, you could tell. You could see it in his eyes.

BERMAN: You talk about the empathy and caring. You had a chance to work with him and really get to know him at a different level talking about helping and reaching out to veterans. I mean, he worked for the troops so much.

SPARKS: Absolutely. He performed a lot. I did a couple of benefits with him, and to benefit -- you know,

trying to raise awareness for the new G.I. bill when it was coming out. And he and Sally Field both worked together, and obviously they were instrumental in that happening.

But, again, it was -- he was able to, and I think this was his power as an actor put himself in the emotional skin of the person he was portraying, and I think that came from his feelings as a comedian that he could just absorb the emotions and the people around him. If you ask anybody, he wanted every detail about the circumstance he could come up with.

You know, when he would show up to do a show or he would perform for the troops, he wanted to know the commander in charge, he warranted to know the geography of the area. He wanted to know problems they ran into every so often and he would pour that information into himself. It was like this perfect machine inside him that would start to build comedy on the reality of the situation and it was because he wanted everybody there to feel part of it.

BERMAN: He was this vessel for this energy of laughter, and it was a gift he gave to so many other such a long period of time.

Hal Sparks, great to have you with us this morning. Really appreciate it.

SPARKS: Yes, thanks.

BERMAN: Coming up for us on NEW DAY: a showdown looming in Iraq between the prime minister and the man appointed to take his job. The U.S. is already supporting Nouri al Maliki's likely successor, so will Maliki step aside? We'll have a live report from Baghdad next.

And we have much more on the life and death of Robin Williams.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter, how was it?

WILLIAMS: Bang-a-rang.




BOLDUAN: Turn to Iraq now where political uncertainty reigns.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is intent on staying in power, but the United States is throwing its support to his designated replacement, Haider al Abadi, hoping he'll form a new cabinet to stand united against rampaging ISIS rebels.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has much more from Baghdad -- Nick. NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate,

really, it's down to Nouri al Maliki how much more political chaos Iraq has to endure certainly in Baghdad. John Kerry, he is almost referring to Maliki as being in the past and the French foreign minister even blamed him for being responsible for the chaos Iraq is currently enduring. How fast can the prime minister designate, Haider al-Abadi, put together a cabinet? Well, he's got 30 days. He may face the usual hurdles of Iraq's dysfunctional parliament and trying to process the government.

But also the question is, how desperate is Nouri al Maliki? Does he have enough in the security forces here, to hold on through force? As he's hinted, does he have any grounds in the courts to try and use the fledgling constitution of Iraq to cause a hurdle for formation of this new government? All difficult questions.

So far today, he's been relatively quiet. Little sign he has much fight left in him. But in the end of the day, his moving away from that post was so key, to form a Western support in fighting ht militant group ISIS across the north of the country, many foreign capitals just wishing Maliki would step back so Iraq can move on -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nick Paton Walsh in Baghdad for us -- Nick, thanks so much.

So, President Obama, he applauded the move to name a new Iraqi prime minister, calling it a key step toward forming a government that can unite different factions.

Jim Acosta is traveling with the president while he's on vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

So, Jim, what more are we hearing from the White House on this? The reaction obviously, they're applauding this, but they also are looking at this 30-day transition where it seems anything but clear what's going to happen.


And, Kate, it's not clear what the U.S. will do if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki refuses to step aside. As you know, the president interrupted his vacation here in Martha's Vineyard yesterday to congratulate chosen Maliki's successor, Haider al-Abadi. The president saying in his comments that he pledged his support to Abadi, and that was essentially all the president needed to say about his support for Nouri al Maliki, the person -- if you read between the lines -- was basically saying it's time for Maliki to go.

And the U.S. is continuing to raise pressure. Secretary of State John Kerry in Australia overnight, basically said that the U.S. will boost its support for Iraq security operations and the U.S. security operations in northern Iraq, should Abadi be able to put together a more unified government something they feel Nouri al Maliki has failed to do.

Now, in the meantime, the president is scheduled to have a much more quiet day on Martha's Vineyard. He doesn't have any scheduled events.

But, Kate, tomorrow is going to be very interesting. His former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who has criticized President Obama's approach to dealing with ISIS, she will be here on Martha's Vineyard for a book signing and lo and behold, as it turns out, both the president, the first lady and Hillary Clinton will all be at a party here on Martha's Vineyard tomorrow evening hosted by Democratic adviser, Vernon Jordan, a White House official confirming earlier this morning the president and first lady will be attending and they look forward to seeing Hillary Clinton here tomorrow evening -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course they do. Funny how those things happen.

Jim, thanks very much. Jim Acosta in Martha's Vineyard for us.

ACOSTA: You got it.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Michaela has a look at more of today's headlines.

PEREIRA: Good morning. And good morning to you at home.

Twenty-two minutes past the hour.

Happening right now: the cease-fire is holding in Gaza as indirect talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are held in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officers acting as intermediaries. An Israeli official tells "Reuters" so far there's no progress on a permanent cease-fire.

Two Liberian doctors with Ebola will be treated with the last available doses of ZMapp, that's the experimental drug given to treat aide workers with the virus. One of them, a priest sent to Spain for treatment died this morning. The two Liberian doctors will be the first Africans to be treated with the untested medication.

The World Health Organization announced this morning an ethics panel approved using the experimental drugs to fight the outbreak. The WHO says now that more than 1,000 people have died in this outbreak.

Ukrainian officials are trying to get residents out of the two rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are planning escape routes in trying to get pro-Russian separatists to surrender. In the meantime, Ukrainian officials say a Russian humanitarian convoy does not have permission to enter Ukraine. Officials are concerned it could be a ploy by Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish a long-term presence there.

New information you need to know about an ingredient found in a popular toothpaste. Federal regulators say Triclosan, a chemical in Colgate Total has been linked to increased cancer cells and disrupted growth when tested on animals. Triclosan is an anti-bacterial chemical used to head off gum disease. Colgate says the toothpaste is safe. However, many consumer companies are phasing the chemical out.

BERMAN: And not the last we've heard of that, I'm sure.

PEREIRA: No, it is not, especially you consider twice a day, three times a day.


BERMAN: Are you sending me a message?

BOLDUAN: Just a little message.

BERMAN: I needed that, thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: It might be a big set and a large desk but can't avoid -- I'm just kidding.

PEREIRA: I said nothing.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next we have a break but after that, Robin Williams' struggles with depression were long documented before his apparent suicide. So, could anything have helped save the comedian? What is the lesson to be learned about that? We're going to talk to Dr. Drew Pinsky about that.

BERMAN: A timely new documentary airing tonight on CNN, addresses depression and sue identify from the perspective of veterans. Soledad O'Brien, who was behind the documentary, joins us to discuss, when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alcohol helped suppress my feelings. I was having a lot of suicidal ideation, a lot of homicidal ideation, too, and it was getting really scary. I was afraid of what I was going to do.


PEREIRA: That is a clip from the powerful new documentary airing tonight on CNN, "The War Comes Home." It shines a light on the internal battle many veterans fight when they return home, the struggle with anger, depression, even thoughts of suicide. It is a painfully honest look at soldiers coping with post-traumatic stress.

Guess who's here? Our Soledad O'Brien, the CEO of Starfish Media Group behind the powerful documentary. She's here with me now.

I am so moved by this, and especially in light of what we were talking about, our breaking news today that we've been following, Robin Williams' death, depression, and the struggle --


PEREIRA: It's very stigmatized.

O'BRIEN: People don't want to talk about it. With he saw the veterans we profiled, these two young guys felt the same way. They didn't want to tell their commanding officers, I'm -- I have post traumatic stress. They didn't want to talk about the anxiety, the nervousness, just the things that were in their heads, right, because it's very stigmatized.

PEREIRA: They were taught to be warriors.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all those things make it much worse when you're not sharing. This program that they go through, which takes about five and a half days, I think the first thing they do is crack that shell and say, this is a safe place to talk about these things. And that's a really good first step.

PEREIRA: And in case you're thinking these are a few cases, I want to drop a staggering statistic that you say is actually low.