The two powerhouse actors starred together in the 1990 movie Awakenings, where Williams plays a doctor and De Niro one of his patients. And, as recounted in a new biography written by New York Times columnist Dave Itzkoff about the late actor, Williams seemed to have slipped up during one particular scene and accidentally broke De Niro’s nose.
“My elbow went ‘BAM!’ and it made a noise like a chicken bone breaking,” Williams is quoted saying in Robin after the accident.
But De Niro was actually fine with it. The Taxi Driver actor revealed later on that he had already broken his nose on the 1980 boxing movie Raging Bull and Williams’ whack ended up turning out for the better.
“The thing is, my nose was broken once before, and he knocked it back in the other direction — straightened it out,” De Niro is quoted in the book. “It looks better than it did before.”
Williams died by suicide in August 2014 after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, a type of brain disease that affected his thinking, memory and movement control. It’s the second-most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
As the book recounts, before his death Williams had been incorrectly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that develops gradually, often with a small tremor or general stiffness and slowing of movement.
In an interview with PEOPLE shortly after her husband’s death, Susan Williams opened up about her his struggle with the debilitating brain disease, which had begun taking its toll on the actor in the last year before his death.
Susan explained that although in the months leading up to his death, her husband’s symptoms — which included heightened levels of anxiety, delusions and impaired movement — worsened, doctors weren’t able to make the diagnosis until they performed the actor’s autopsy.
“I know now the doctors, the whole team was doing exactly the right things,” Susan continued. “It’s just that this disease was faster than us and bigger than us. We would have gotten there eventually.”
Robin is in stores now.