For other uses, see Robin Williams (disambiguation).
Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was an American actor and comedian.
Born in Chicago, Williams began performing stand-up comedy in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance. After rising to fame playing the alien Mork in the sitcom Mork & Mindy, Williams established a career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting.
After his first starring film role in Popeye (1980), Williams starred in numerous films that achieved critical and financial success, including The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), Aladdin (1992), The Fisher King (1991), One Hour Photo (2002), and World’s Greatest Dad (2009), as well as box office hits, such as Hook (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Good Will Hunting (1997), and the Night at the Museum trilogy (2006–2014).
Williams was nominated four times for the Academy Awards, winning once for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as psychologist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting.
According to Reeve, Skinner was bewildered by Williams, who could instantly perform in many accents, including Scottish, Irish, English, Russian, and Italian.
In a later production, Williams silenced his critics with his well-received performance as an old man in The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams.
Williams performing stand-up comedy at a USO show on December 20, 2007
After his family moved to Marin County, Williams began performing stand-up comedy in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1970s.
He gave his first performance at the Holy City Zoo, a comedy club in San Francisco, where he worked his way up from tending bar. In the 1960s, San Francisco was a center for a rock music renaissance, hippies, drugs, and a sexual revolution, and in the 1970s, Williams helped lead its “comedy renaissance”, writes critic Gerald Nachman.:6 Williams says he found out about “drugs and happiness” during that period, adding that he saw “the best brains of my time turned to mud”.
Williams moved to Los Angeles and continued performing stand-up at clubs including the Comedy Club.
There, in 1977, he was seen by TV producer George Schlatter, who asked him to appear on a revival of his show Laugh-In. The show aired in late 1977 and was his debut TV appearance. That year, Williams also performed a show at the LA Improv for Home Box Office. While the Laugh-In revival failed, it led Williams into a television career; he continued performing stand-up at comedy clubs such as the Roxy to help keep his improvisational skills sharp.
Williams won a Grammy Award for the recording of his 1979 live show at the Copacabana in New York, Reality …
Some of his later tours, after he became a TV and film star, include An Evening With Robin Williams, Robin Williams: At The Met and Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.
Williams said that partly due to the stress of performing stand-up, he started using drugs and alcohol early in his career.
Williams once described the life of stand-up comedians:
Williams felt secure he would not run out of ideas, as the constant change in world events would keep him supplied. He also explained that he often used free association of ideas while improvising in order to keep the audience interested. The competitive atmosphere caused problems; for example, some comedians accused him of copying their jokes, which Williams strongly denied. David Brenner claims that he confronted Williams personally and threatened him with bodily harm if he heard Williams utter another one of his jokes. Whoopi Goldberg defended him, explaining that it is difficult for comedians not to reuse another comedian’s material, and that it is done “all the time”. He later avoided going to performances of other comedians to deter similar accusations.
After the Laugh-In revival and appearing in the cast of The Richard Pryor Show on NBC, Williams was cast by Garry Marshall as the alien Mork in a 1978 episode of the TV series Happy Days, “My Favorite Orkan”. Sought after as a last minute cast replacement for a departing actor, Williams impressed the producer with his quirky sense of humor when he sat on his head when asked to take a seat for the audition. As Mork, Williams improvised much of his dialogue and physical comedy, speaking in a high, nasal voice.
Mork became popular, featured on posters, coloring books, lunch-boxes, and other merchandise. Mork & Mindy was such a success in its first season that Williams appeared on the March 12, 1979, cover of Time magazine. The cover photo, taken by Michael Dressler in 1979, is said to have “[captured] his different sides: the funnyman mugging for the camera, and a sweet, more thoughtful pose that appears on a small TV he holds in his hands” according to Mary Forgione of the Los Angeles Times. This photo was installed in the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian Institution shortly after his death to allow visitors to pay their respects. Williams also appeared on the cover of the August 23, 1979, issue of Rolling Stone, photographed by Richard Avedon.
Starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Williams began to reach a wider audience with his stand-up comedy, including three HBO comedy specials, Off The Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1983) and Robin Williams: Live at the Met (1986).
Also in 1986, Williams co-hosted the 58th Academy Awards.
Williams was also a regular guest on various talk shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman, on which he appeared 50 times.
Letterman, who knew Williams for nearly 40 years, recalls seeing him first perform as a new comedian at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, where Letterman and other comedians had already been doing stand-up.
His stand-up work was a consistent thread through his career, as seen by the success of his one-man show (and subsequent DVD) Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (2002).
See also: Robin Williams filmography
The first film role credited to Robin Williams is a small part in the 1977 low-budget comedy Can I Do It …
There, Williams showcased the acting skills previously demonstrated in his television work; and the film’s commercial disappointment was not blamed upon his role. He stars as the leading character in The World According to Garp (1982), which Williams considered “may have lacked a certain madness onscreen, but it had a great core”. He continued with other smaller roles in less successful films, such as The Survivors (1983) and Club Paradise (1986), though he said these roles did not help advance his film career.
His first major break came from his starring role in director Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), which earned Williams a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film is set in 1965 during the Vietnam War, with Williams playing the role of Adrian Cronauer, a radio shock jock who keeps the troops entertained with comedy and sarcasm.
Over the microphone, he created voice impressions of people, including Walter Cronkite, Gomer Pyle, Elvis Presley, Mr. Ed, and Richard Nixon. “We just let the cameras roll,” said producer Mark Johnson, and Williams “managed to create something new for every single take.”
Many of his later roles were in comedies tinged with pathos. His roles in comedy and dramatic films garnered Williams an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (for his role as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting (1997)), as well as two previous Academy Award nominations (for playing an English teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989), and for playing a troubled homeless man in The Fisher King (1991)). In 1991, he played an adult Peter Pan in the film Hook, although he had said that he would have to lose twenty-five pounds.
Other roles Williams had in acclaimed dramatic films include Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Awakenings (1990), What Dreams May Come (1998), and Bicentennial Man (1999). In Insomnia, Williams portrayed a writer / killer on the run from a sleep-deprived Los Angeles policeman (played by Al Pacino) in rural Alaska. Also in 2002, in the psychological thriller One Hour Photo, Williams played an emotionally disturbed photo development technician who becomes obsessed with a family for whom he has developed pictures for a long time. The last Williams movie released during his lifetime was The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, a film addressing the value of life.
Mike Medavoy, producer of Hook, told its director, Steven Spielberg, that he intentionally teamed up Hoffman and Williams for the film because he knew they wanted to work together, and that Williams welcomed the opportunity of working with Spielberg. Williams benefited from working with Woody Allen, who directed him and Billy Crystal in Deconstructing Harry (1997), as Allen had knowledge of the fact that Crystal and Williams had often performed together on stage.
His performance in the role of a therapist in Good Will Hunting (1997) deeply affected some real therapists and won Williams an Academy Award. In Awakenings (1990), Williams played a doctor modeled on Oliver Sacks, who wrote the book on which the film was based.
Sacks later said the way the actor’s mind worked was a “form of genius.” In 1989 Williams played a private school teacher in Dead Poets Society, which included a final, emotional scene which some critics said “inspired a generation” and became a part of pop culture. Looking over most of his filmography, one writer was “struck by the breadth” and radical diversity of most roles Williams portrayed.
Williams voiced characters in several animated films.
Buckley, Peter Lorre, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Arsenio Hall. His role in Aladdin became one of his most recognized and best-loved, and the film was the highest-grossing of 1992; it won numerous awards, including a Golden Globe for Williams.
Williams continued to provide voices in other animated films, including FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Robots (2005), Happy Feet (2006), and an uncredited vocal performance in Everyone’s Hero (2006).
Williams performing at the 2008 USO World Gala in Washington, D.C. on October 1, 2008
Williams with Marsha Garces at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989
Williams was an enthusiast of both pen-and-paper role-playing games and video games. His daughter Zelda was named after the title character from The Legend of Zelda, a family favorite video game series, and he sometimes performed at consumer entertainment trade shows.
The report also noted that Williams had been suffering “a recent increase in paranoia”. An examination of his brain tissue suggested Williams suffered from “diffuse Lewy body dementia”. Describing the disease as “the terrorist inside my husband’s brain”, his wife Susan Schneider said, “however you look at it—the presence of Lewy bodies took his life,” referring to his previous diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
In honor of his theater work, the lights of Broadway were darkened for the evening of August 14, 2014. That night, the cast of the Aladdin musical honored Williams by having the audience join them in a sing-along of “Friend Like Me”, an Oscar-nominated song originally sung by Williams in the 1992 film Aladdin. Fans of Williams created makeshift memorials at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and at locations from his television and film career, such as the bench in Boston’s Public Garden featured in Good Will Hunting; the Pacific Heights, San Francisco, home used in Mrs. Doubtfire; the sign for Parrish Shoes in Keene, New Hampshire, where parts of Jumanji were filmed; and the Boulder, Colorado, home used for Mork & Mindy. Work on a book biography was begun by New York Times writer David Itzkoff in 2014, and was published in 2018, entitled simply Robin. In addition, a tunnel on Highway 101 north of the Golden Gate Bridge was officially named the “Robin Williams Tunnel” on February 29, 2016.
On television, during the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards on August 25, 2014, Billy Crystal presented a tribute to Williams, referring to him as “the brightest star in our comedy galaxy”. On September 9, 2014, PBS aired a one-hour special devoted to his career, and on September 27, 2014, dozens of leading stars and celebrities held a tribute in San Francisco to celebrate his life and career.
Directed by Marina Zenovich, the film, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, was also screened at the Sundance Film Festival. That same year, a mural of Robin Williams was created on Market Street, in San Francisco.
Williams credited comedians including Jonathan Winters, Peter Sellers, Nichols and May, and Lenny Bruce as influences, admiring their ability to attract a more intellectual audience with a higher level of wit.:43 He also liked Jay Leno for his quickness in ad-libbing comedy routines and Sid Caesar, whose acts he felt were “precious”.
During an interview in London in 2002, Williams told Michael Parkinson that Peter Sellers was an important influence, especially his multi-character roles in Dr. Strangelove, stating, “It doesn’t get better than that.” British comedy actors Dudley Moore and Peter Cook were also among his influences, he told Parkinson.
Williams was also influenced by Richard Pryor’s fearless ability to talk about his personal life on stage, with subjects including his use of drugs and alcohol, and Williams added those kinds of topics during his own performances.
Although Williams was first recognized as a stand-up comedian and television star, he later became known for acting in film roles of substance and serious drama.
Williams created a signature free-form persona in comedy, in a style that was so widely and uniquely identified with him, that new comedians imitated Williams personally.
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Robin Williams
2003 – Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album, Robin Williams Live – 2002
The Life and Humor of Robin Williams: A Biography.
Robin Williams: A Biography.
The Robin Williams Scrapbook.
“The Life and Death of Robin Williams”.
“Peter Travers on 9 of His Favorite Robin Williams Performances – Rolling Stone’s film critic weighs in on the late actor and comedian’s best work”.
Robin Williams at Find a Grave
Robin Williams on IMDb