Robin Williams's death leads to spike in charitable donations

The death of the beloved comedian, actor and philanthropic star has led to a surge in charitable donations and more talk about mental health issues.
The death of the beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams has led to a surge in charitable donations and more discussions around mental health. Williams is pictured here with his daughter, Zelda. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

The death of beloved comedian Robin Williams has led to a surge in charitable donations around the world. The Oscar-winner, who is best known for his hilarious onscreen antics, was best known off-screen for his charitable work.

Now, individuals around the world are honouring his memory with charity of their own.

Williams supported over 50 charities and causes, according to Look to the Stars, a database that lists the benevolent endeavours of celebrities. Williams invested his energy in a variety of causes – everything from human rights to education to environmental protection and health care.

Beyond providing financial support, he visited sick children in hospitals and entertained American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. More often than not, he donated his time and money quietly, without the need for a photo op.

Williams best known philanthropic involvement was likely his role with Comic Relief, a non-profit charitable organization aimed at combating the roots of homelessness. Robin would participate in televised events alongside stars like Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, using the power of humour to entertain and raise millions in the process.

The much-loved comic also created the Robin Williams Scholarship at his alma mater, the Juilliard School, in New York City. Two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, who was once awarded a Robin Williams scholarship, credits Williams with “changing my life.” She took to her Facebook page on Monday and wrote: “Through a scholarship, he made it possible for me to graduate college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed.”

Inspiring others to give back

The benevolence of Robin Williams did not stop at Chastain and the recipients of the other causes he had supported. The death of the Good Morning, Vietnam actor has inspired a wave of charitable donations around the world.

Williams was a longtime supporter of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a research and treatment facility in Memphis. His daughter Zelda, named by her father after The Legend of Zelda gaming franchise, was raising money for the children’s hospital through St. Jude PLAY LIVE, a video game fundraiser. Following the death of her father, her campaign page has been flooded with donations, far exceeding her $5,000 goal.

Zelda responded to the outpouring of support via Twitter: “Thank you to all those donating to @StJude in memory of my father. I'm overwhelmed. The charity meant the world to him, as it does to me.

“Knowing that so many children will be helped in his honour is all I could've asked for. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.”

Charitable donations for mental health surge in Canada

The ripple effect of Williams’s generosity does not stop at organizations he supported. The actor, who died from an apparent suicide, has inspired a surge in charitable donations in Canada as well, particularly to organizations affiliated with mental health. And that surge will likely be more than a one-week affair. 

Caroline Riseboro, senior vice president of marketing and community engagement at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has already seen an impact. “A number of donations are coming in online that are much higher than that last year,” said Riseboro.

“What is even more interesting, is that people have gone online and made donations in honour of the memory of Robin Williams.”

Karen O’Connor, program director of community support and engagement at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto branch, says an uptick in contributions following the death of a celebrity from suicide is a trend they have seen before. “We haven’t seen a surge so far, we are anticipating that it is a bit early to see that. We will probably see that in the next couple of weeks.”

Kimberly Moran, CEO of Children's Mental Health Ontario, says “What we typically find is that this gets conversations going, and then there is a delay, and then you see donations.”

Indeed, Williams’s passing has sparked a public discussion on mental health and combating the stigma associated with it, including on social media. “A key piece that we’re seeing is a particular amount of discussion of mental illness on social media in light of Robin Williams’s passing,” said Riseboro. “We’ve seen a lot of individuals come forward on social media, finally admitting mental illness and saying they want to come out of the shadows.”

According to the CAMH, one in five Canadians will be affected by mental illness. “That means every single one of us will be impacted by a friend, family member or colleague, that has a mental illness,” said Riseboro.

“Seventy per cent of people with mental health issues had it start in childhood,” adds Moran.

His legacy

Robin Williams was a man who gave the world so much through laughter and philanthropy. That spirit of generosity has not ended.

“The tragedy [of Robin Williams’s death] is a sad way to have mental health profiled, but if there is some good that can come out of this, then we are happy to see it,” said O’Connor.

You can donate to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health here, the Canadian Mental Health Association here and the Children's Mental Health Ontario here.


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