Before Robin Williams’s August death at the age of 63, there wasn’t any outward sign of a rift between his three adult children and his wife of three years. In New York, he had attended the Comedy Awards with son Zachary and wife Susan Schneider Williams on either arm. He’d arrived at other events on the other coast with his wife and daughter Zelda Williams. At these events, they all smiled for the cameras.
But the familial scenes may have obscured mutual enmity between Williams’s closely knit children and the wife he brought into the family in 2011. And now, after Williams’s death, a bitter battle has ignited in California Superior Court over parts of his estate and exposed mounting animosity on either side.
“The Williams’ children are heartbroken that Petitioner, Mr. Williams’ wife of less than three years, has acted against his wishes by challenging the plans he so carefully made for his estate,” lawyers representing Williams’s children wrote in January in response to a lawsuit Susan Williams filed in December, the Associated Press reported.
Hanging in the balance are some of Williams’s fortune made over four decades in the entertainment industry and the props and photographs from which he drew inspiration. Both sides, according to reports, expressed interest in those artifacts — the collection of graphic novels, fossils, action figures and theater masks. They were vital, his children said, to his seemingly boundless creativity.
“These collections were carefully amassed by Mr. Williams over his lifetime and were precious to him,” Williams’s children said in court filings reported by the New York Times. “As the Williams children grew, so did their father’s collections and they shared in their father’s excitement as additions were made to his collections.”
The drama adds a somber cast to an already-tragic tale of genius, depression and suicide. He often spoke of the closeness he had with his children, right up to the final months of his life. “My children give me a great sense of wonder,” he said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything. “Just to see them develop into these extraordinary human beings. … I would read the whole C.S. Lewis series out loud to my kids. I was once reading to Zelda, and she said, ‘Don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.’ So I did … and she said, ‘That’s better.’ ”
But he was also a man of myriad romantic interests. His first marriage was to Valerie Velardi, and it imploded after Williams began a highly publicized affair with a cocktail waitress, a relationship that also soon ended up in the courtroom. He then married the kids’ nanny, who was several months pregnant with one of his children. That marriage, as well, ended in divorce. In 2011, Williams began his last marriage, this one with Susan Schneider, a graphic designer with two sons of her own.
They moved into a home in Tiburon, north of San Francisco. That house, valued at $7 million, is now the setting of the saga between Susan Williams and the comedian’s children. Before his death, according to the Times, Williams had put the entirety of his wealth into a trust, the beneficiaries of which were his children. He had also set up a separate trust for his new wife, who would get that Tiburon home and the “contents thereof.”
But she claimed in December that his wishes had been violated. She said “days after Mr. Williams’s untimely death” some of those “contents” were “unilaterally moved” from the house. Then, the Times reported, “certain home-related services were canceled” like the newspaper. The court documents reportedly portrayed her as a victim, someone who had lost “her husband through a shocking and emotionally charged event” and was deprived of “time to grieve her loss free from the frenetic efforts to interfere with her domestic tranquility.”
The Williams children denied those allegations in January, saying her accusations were just a manifestation of “the greed that appears to be driving petitioner’s actions.”
“Notwithstanding Ms. Schneider Williams’s insinuations, the fact is that neither the Williams children nor any representative of theirs has been in the house or had anything taken from it since Robin Williams’s tragic death,” lawyer Allan Mayer wrote the Times.
Susan Williams’s attorney told the Associated Press that “this is not ugly. I would not say this is anticipated to be a highly contested proceeding.” He added in an interview with the Times: Susan Williams is “not somebody who has sticky fingers. Mr. Williams wanted his wife to be able to stay in her home and not be disrupted in her life with her children. Compared to what the Williams children were set to receive from their father, this is bucket of water in a lake.”
More from the Morning Mix: