Prince Harry says he and Robin Williams‘ son Zak faced “remarkably similar” mental health struggles during their adolescent years and have since turned to help others as a way to deal with the deaths of their respective mother and father.
Zak Williams, the 38-year-old son of the late actor and comedian, appears in the new AppleTV+ docuseries “The Me You Can’t See,” co-created by Harry and Oprah Winfrey. In it, Zak opens up about staying committed to breaking the cycle of addiction following his own father’s own struggle with substances. Robin died in 2014 after battling with Lewy body dementia. His death was ruled a suicide.
Speaking about Zak’s participation in the docuseries on Friday, Harry told “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts that the two have endured similar experiences especially in that they both turned to help others when grappling with the trauma of losing a parent.
“Zak’s story is a classic example of the sort of the parallel threat with what happened with him at his age and what happened to me at my age. It’s remarkably similar. One thing that he said in a follow-up conversation which he said was his service to others has helped heal him,” said the 36-year-old.
In ‘The Me You Can’t See,’ Zak Williams discusses his vow to ‘break the cycle’ of addiction in his family. His father, Robin Williams, died in 2014 by suicide but had long been open about his substance abuse. ( Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Timo Wallets LLC)
“I think that was a really key moment for Oprah, myself and Zak when we were on a separate call for us to go, ‘Wow, it’s true, Oprah in your career, it’s been true for me in starting the Invictus Games to be able to create something to watch other people heal and follow our healing process,” he shared. “I think the compassionate element of that to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and somehow be able to help in our healing process is absolutely critical.”
In the AppleTV+ series, Harry says he and his wife Meghan Markle‘s pleas for help were “met with total silence, total neglect.” He also claimed his father, Prince Charles, did little to shield him and his brother, Prince William, from the media scrutiny at a young age. Diana died when Harry was 12.
“My father used to say to me when I was younger, he used to say to both William and I, ‘Well, it was like that for me. So it’s going to be like that for you,'” Harry recalled in the series. “That doesn’t make sense — just because you suffered it doesn’t mean that your kids have to suffer. In fact, quite the opposite. If you suffered, do everything you can to make sure that whatever negative experiences that you had, that you can make it right for your kids.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex reside in the coastal city of Montecito, Calif. following their decision to step back as senior working members of the royal family. (Neil Mockford/GC Images)
For his part, Zak said that as a father he wants to “break the cycle” of the “generational issue” of substance abuse in his family.
“I started to realize elements of myself that were like him [Robin]. My anxiety, my bouts of depression, OCD, drugs, drinking like him,” Zak said in the series (via DailyMail.)
“When I wasn’t self-medicating, things felt completely overwhelming for me. And it just became part of my identity to get through the day,” Zak continued.
Robin’s son said he began to recognize the “frustration” the actor felt when after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, according to the outlet. Zak, who also spoke of his past cocaine use, said he turned to alcohol at the time.
“I was drinking to excess, damaging my relationship with my family I was experiencing psychosis,” he admitted. “It was difficult for me to have just normal engagements with people because I felt so broken and so isolated. I needed help.”
In his path to sobriety, Zak worked with mental health organizations. He is now an advocate.
Also in the series, Harry admitted he turned to alcohol and drugs following Diana’s 1997 death.
“I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling. But I slowly became aware that, OK, I wasn’t drinking Monday to Friday, but I would probably drink a week’s worth in one day on a Friday or a Saturday night,” Harry remembered.
Today, Harry and Markle, 39, have relocated to California after announcing their decision to step back as senior members of the royal family last March. They made that decision permanent in February. The couple is now settled in their Montecito home with their son, Archie. They are awaiting the arrival of a daughter this summer.