LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams died from suspected suicide on Monday after battling depression, triggering an outpouring of tributes to one of the most beloved entertainers of his generation.
The 63-year-old star of Hollywood hits such as Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire was found dead at his home in Tiburon, northern California, shortly before midday, a police statement said.
"At this time, the Sheriff's Office Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia," the statement from Marin County Sheriff's Department said.
The veteran actor's publicist said the star had been battling depression prior to his death.
"Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late," Mara Buxbaum said in a statement.
"This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."
Heartbroken wife Susan Schneider urged the father-of-three's millions of fans to remember his genius for creating laughter.
"This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings," said Schneider, who became the actor's third wife when the couple married in 2011.
"I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief.
"As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions."
After beginning as a stand-up comic, Williams rose to fame in the iconic US television sitcom Mork & Mindy, channelling his anarchic, high-energy style as an extra-terrestrial struggling to fit in on Earth.
He later reeled off a string of big-screen hits, which included 1987's Good Morning Vietnam, where he played a motormouth US military disc jockey, 1989's Dead Poets Society as a maverick English teacher and 1997's Good Will Hunting, which earned him a best supporting actor Oscar.
News of Williams death quickly supplanted Iraq from the top item on evening news bulletins as the entertainment world reacted with shock.
Legendary director Steven Spielberg, a close friend of Williams, paid tribute to a comic genius.
"Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him," said Spielberg in a statement cited by Variety.
"He was a pal and I can't believe he's gone," added Spielberg, who famously phoned Williams to cheer himself up during filming of his harrowing 1994 Holocaust drama Schindler's List.
Spielberg's tribute was echoed throughout the entertainment industry.
"I can't believe the news about Robin Williams. He gave so much to so many people. I'm heartbroken," comic and talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres said on Twitter.
Fellow comedian Steve Martin added: "I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul."
Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto paid tribute to a "brave, original artist."
"You taught us how to stand on the edge, fearless, + shine," Leto said on Twitter.
'One of a kind': Obama
Obama, on holiday in Martha's Vineyard, referenced Williams' array of beloved performances as he led the tributes to the entertainer.
"Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind, " Obama said in a statement.
"He arrived in our lives as an alien - but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit," he added, referring to Williams' breakthrough television role as the extraterrestrial visitor Mork.
"He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most - from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets."
Robin Williams: wisecracks and wisdom
A selection of quotes, wisecracks and offbeat wisdom from Robin Williams, who died on Monday from suspected suicide in California aged 63.
"Nanu Nanu" - Williams' extra-terrestrial greeting from hit television show Mork & Mindy
"Cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money" - Williams on the perils of substance abuse.
"A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills, no, no. They'd make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while" - Williams on the battle of the sexes.
"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it" - Williams explains his comic style.
"Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, 'Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding.'" - Williams pays tribute to his father in his 1998 Oscar acceptance speech for Good Will Hunting.
"I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open," - Williams jokes about his stint in rehab.
"You're not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you've met, she's not perfect either. The question is whether or not you are perfect for each other" - Williams' character Sean Maguire offers relationship advice in Good Will Hunting.
"It's all part and parcel of the whole genie gig: phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space" - Williams as the Genie of the Lamp in Disney's 1992 hit Aladdin.
"Goooooooood morning, Vietnaaaam!" - Williams as motormouth armed forces DJ Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam.