Robin Williams battled years of substance abuse with humor

How Robin Williams' humor masked pain and add... 04:01

Robin Williams was a self-proclaimed alcoholic, but the comedian dealt with his substance abuse problems with humor, Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O'Dell reports.

"Not only did I inhale, I snorted everything," Williams said. "I think it also serves much like the character that I stay on the outside and talk about what's going on, that's much better for me."

Williams sat down with Entertainment Tonight after completing an inpatient treatment program in 2006.

"I thank all of the people who sent the amazing letters of support and kindness and prayers and there's a wonderful support network out there," Williams said.

The actor spent four decades making audiences laugh and cry. While he was comfortable in front of the camera, he was, at times, reluctant to talk about his past.

"There are things in my past, it's like 'no, can't do it, no,'" Williams said on Entertainment Tonight.

But Williams seemed to have a grasp on how to cope with his off-screen problems.

"It might have been helpful just to learn certain things about how to, you know, deal with stress," Williams said. "I dealt with it with alcohol. Then you realize no, that does not help you my friend, that does not help deal with the situation."

Williams spoke openly about his addiction issues in the 1970s and 80s. He was a close friend of comedian John Belushi, who died of a drug overdose in 1982.

Williams said his friend's death, as well as the birth of his first child, prompted him to enter rehab for the first time.

"People say about young Hollywood, it's been the same for old Hollywood, young London, everyone - you know," Williams said. "You think you're invincible and then after a certain point you realize there's enough pictures of you that you're not, and that kind of sobers your ass up."

In an interview on PBS's "All From Charlie Rose" on December 4, 2009, Williams explained that his stays in rehabilitation centers put his values in perspective.

"To come back from that is like going, 'oh, look.' And then you realize you do have family, friends and people who go, 'I appreciate you.' And now I could actually remember what we are talking about. How cool is that? That is kind of a gift, you know."

But for Williams, the best treatment was always comedy.

"It [comedy] has always been a wonderful kind of alternative to the acting," Williams told Charlie Rose. "Because it did two things, paid the bills and also great therapy. I mean, to be able to talk about things, you know, whether things going on in my life, going on in the world, it was always kind of a great release."