Robin Williams' Death Spurs New Twitter Policy, Magazine Sales Spikes

Robin Williams Patch Adams - H 2014
Universal/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Robin Williams Patch Adams - H 2014

The star's shocking Aug. 11 suicide reverberated like few others

This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


As the news of Robin Williams' suicide broke Aug. 11, CNN nearly tripled its usual Monday audience to 1.4 million viewers. (The bump was tiny for Fox News Channel, 2.4 million viewers compared with 2.35 million the previous Monday.) An ABC 20/20 special Aug. 12 set a summer high mark for the show with 7.4 million viewers, topping a Hillary Clinton show. Disney Channel broadcast Williams' work in Aladdin on Aug. 16 and scored the top-rated program on cable with 3.8 million total viewers.

Mork & Mindy

Five days after his death, NBCUniversal's Cloo network, typically home to thrillers and mysteries, ran a 24-hour Mork & Mindy marathon. The sitcom that made Williams famous in 1978 delivered 70,000 viewers in 18-to-49, up 204 percent over the previous four Mondays. NBCUni acquired rights to the Paramount-produced comedy from CBS years ago, so why not put Mork on the higher-profile USA Network? An NBCUni spokesperson says executives felt the show would get a bigger rating than the scheduled programming on Cloo "but would not have delivered a bigger rating than what normally runs on USA."


iTunes saw an immediate spike in downloads of Williams titles, including Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire and Patch Adams. By the night of Aug. 11, eight Williams films were among the top 100 downloads. (None were there before his death.) On Amazon, Williams was in seven of the top 20 best-selling movies and TV shows the next day. Most of his DVDs were listed as out of stock.


People, Time, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly joined THR in devoting covers to Williams (EW did a split-run cover with Gone Girl). A People spokesperson says the issue sold about 1.2 million newsstand copies, well above its 2013 average of a little more than 822,000 copies a week.


Activity around Williams spiked to 63,000 tweets a minute Aug. 11. And when disturbing Photoshopped images caused Williams' daughter, Zelda, to close her account, Twitter agreed to a new policy allowing family members of the deceased to have hateful posts removed. Says Williams family publicist Mara Buxbaum, "We're proud to have worked with Twitter to prevent similar hurt in the wake of grief."


The New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff, who wrote a front-page obituary of Williams as well as a 2009 profile of him, will pen a high-profile biography for publisher Henry Holt.