In light of his 69th birthday this week I shall be featuring one of my most favorite comedians on screen. He often made me laugh out loud at times with his impersonations of various characters on tv shows and movies not to forget. He’s been an uplifting spirit for me over the years; he moves me, up and down and in all other directions and ways…
I wrote a poem about him which I will add at the end. Check him out (or not):
Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was an American actor and comedian. He is often regarded by critics as one of the best comedians of all time. He was known for his improvisation skills, and the wide variety of memorable voices that he created. He began performing stand-up comedy in San Francisco and Los Angeles during the mid-1970s, and rose to fame for playing the alien Mork in the sitcom Mork & Mindy (1978–1982).
After his first starring film role in Popeye (1980), Williams starred in several critically and commercially successful films including The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), Patch Adams (1998), One Hour Photo (2002), and World’s Greatest Dad (2009). He also starred in box office hits such as Hook (1991), Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Good Will Hunting (1997), and the Night at the Museum trilogy (2006–2014). He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting. He also received two Primetime Emmy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Grammy Awards.
In August 2014, at age 63, Williams committed suicide by hanging at his home in Paradise Cay, California. His widow, Susan Schneider Williams—as well as medical experts and the autopsy—attributed his suicide to his struggle with Lewy body disease.
Robin McLaurin Williams was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on July 21, 1951. His father was a senior executive in Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury Division. His mother was a former model and Williams credited her as an important early influence on his humor, and he tried to make her laugh to gain attention.
When Williams attended public elementary school he described himself as a quiet child who did not overcome his shyness until he became involved with his high school drama department. His friends recall him as very funny.
As both his parents worked, Williams was partially raised by the family’s maid, who was his main companion. Williams attended Redwood High School in nearby Larkspur. At the time of his graduation in 1969, he was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” and “Funniest” by his classmates. After high school graduation, Williams enrolled at Claremont Men’s College in Claremont, California, to study political science; he dropped out to pursue acting. Williams studied theatre for three years at the College of Marin. According to adrama professor, the depth of the young actor’s talent became evident when he was cast in the musical Oliver! as Fagin. Williams often improvised during his time in the drama program, leaving cast members in hysterics.
In 1973, Williams attained a full scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York City. He was one of 20 students accepted into the freshman class, and he and Christopher Reeve were the only two accepted by John Houseman into the Advanced Program at the school that year. William Hurt and Mandy Patinkin were also classmates. Reeve remembered his first impression of Williams when they were new students at Juilliard: “He wore tie-dyed shirts with tracksuit bottoms and talked a mile a minute. I’d never seen so much energy contained in one person. He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released. I watched in awe as he virtually caromed off the walls of the classrooms and hallways. To say that he was ‘on’ would be a major understatement.”
Williams left Juilliard during his junior year in 1976 at the suggestion of Houseman, who said there was nothing more Juilliard could teach him. Gerald Freedman, another of his teachers at Juilliard, said Williams was a “genius” and that the school’s conservative and classical style of training did not suit him; no one was surprised that he left.
Williams began performing stand-up comedy in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976. 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 late 1970s, Williams helped lead its “comedy renaissance”, writes critic Gerald Nachman. 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 Store. Williams said that partly due to the stress of performing stand-up, he started using drugs and alcohol early in his career. He further said that he neither drank nor took drugs while on stage, but occasionally performed when hung over from the previous day. During the period he was using cocaine, he said it made him paranoid when performing on stage.
Williams once described the life of stand-up comedians:
It’s a brutal field, man. They burn out. It takes its toll. Plus, the lifestyle—partying, drinking, drugs. If you’re on the road, it’s even more brutal. You gotta come back down to mellow your ass out, and then performing takes you back up. They flame out because it comes and goes. Suddenly they’re hot, and then somebody else is hot. Sometimes they get very bitter. Sometimes they just give up. Sometimes they have a revival thing and they come back again. Sometimes they snap. The pressure kicks in. You become obsessed and then you lose that focus that you need. Williams felt secure that 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.
During an interview in 1992, Williams was asked whether he ever feared losing his balance between his work and his life. He replied, “There’s that fear—if I felt like I was becoming not just dull but a rock, that I still couldn’t speak, fire off or talk about things, if I’d start to worry or got too afraid to say something. … If I stop trying, I get afraid.” While he attributed the recent suicide of novelist Jerzy Kosiński to his fear of losing his creativity and sharpness, Williams felt he could overcome those risks. For that, he credited his father for strengthening his self-confidence, telling him to never be afraid of talking about subjects which were important to him.
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. The cast and crew, as well as TV network executives were deeply impressed with his performance.
Mork’s appearance proved so popular with viewers that it led to the spin-off television sitcom Mork & Mindy, which co-starred Pam Dawber, and ran from 1978 to 1982; the show was written to accommodate his extreme improvisations in dialog and behavior. Although he portrayed the same character as in Happy Days, the series was set in the present in Boulder, Colorado, instead of the late 1950s in Milwaukee. Mork & Mindy at its peak had a weekly audience of sixty million and was credited with turning Williams into a “superstar”. 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.
His first starring film performance is as the title character in Popeye (1980), in which Williams showcased the acting skills previously demonstrated in his television work; accordingly, the film’s commercial disappointment was not blamed on his performance. He went on to star 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.
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. Williams was allowed to play the role without a script, improvising most of his lines. 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”.
In 1989, Williams played a private-school English teacher in Dead Poets Society, which included a final, emotional scene that some critics said “inspired a generation” and became a part of pop culture. Similarly, his performance as a therapist in Good Will Hunting (1997) deeply affected even some real therapists. In Awakenings (1990), Williams plays a doctor modeled after Oliver Sacks, who wrote the book on which the film is based. Sacks later said the way the actor’s mind worked was a “form of genius”. In 1991, he played an adult Peter Pan in the film Hook, although he had said he would have to lose 25 pounds for the role. Terry Gilliam, who co-founded Monty Python and directed Williams in two of his films, The Fisher King (1991) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), said in 1992 that Williams had the ability to “go from manic to mad to tender and vulnerable … [Williams had] the most unique mind on the planet. There’s nobody like him out there.”
Other performances Williams had in dramatic films include Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Awakenings (1990), What Dreams May Come (1998), and Bicentennial Man (1999). In Insomnia (2002), Williams portrays a writer/killer on the run from a sleep-deprived Los Angeles policeman (played by Al Pacino) in rural Alaska.
His roles in comedy and dramatic films garnered Williams several accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Will Hunting as well as two previous Academy Award nominations, for Dead Poets Society, and as a troubled homeless man in The Fisher King, respectively.
Among the actors who helped him during his acting career, he credited Robert De Niro, from whom he learned the power of silence and economy of dialogue when acting. From Dustin Hoffman, with whom he co-starred in Hook, he learned to take on totally different character types, and to transform his characters by extreme preparation. 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.
Williams voiced characters in several animated films. His voice role as the Genie in the animated musical Aladdin (1992) was written for him. The film’s directors said they had taken a risk by writing the role. At first, Williams refused the role since it was a Disney movie, and he did not want the studio profiting by selling merchandise based on the movie. He accepted the role with certain conditions: “I’m doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don’t want to sell anything—as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.” Williams improvised much of his dialogue, recording approximately 30 hours of tape, and impersonated dozens of celebrities, including Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Groucho Marx, Rodney Dangerfield, William F. 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. His performance led the way for other animated films to incorporate actors with more star power. He was named a Disney Legend in 2009.
Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, in June 1978. Their son Zachary Pym “Zak” Williams was born in 1983. Velardi and Williams were divorced in 1988.
In 1989, Williams married Garces, who was six months pregnant with his child. They had two children, Zelda Rae Williams and Cody Alan Williams. In March 2008, Garces filed for divorce from Williams, citing irreconcilable differences. Their divorce was finalized in 2010. Williams married his third wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider, in 2011.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Williams had an addiction to cocaine. He was a casual friend of John Belushi, and the Saturday Night Live comic’s death in 1982 from a drug overdose, which happened the morning after the two had partied together, along with the birth of his own son Zak, prompted him to quit drugs and alcohol: “Was it a wake-up call? Oh yeah, on a huge level. The grand jury helped, too.” Williams later said of Belushi’s death, “It sobered the shit out of me.” Williams turned to exercise and cycling to help alleviate his depression shortly after Belushi’s death; according to bicycle shop owner Tony Tom, Williams said, “cycling saved my life.” In 2003, Williams started drinking again while working on a film in Alaska. In 2006, he checked himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation center in Newberg, Oregon, saying he was an alcoholic. Years afterward, Williams acknowledged his failure to maintain sobriety, but said he never returned to using cocaine, declaring in a 2010 interview: No. Cocaine—paranoid and impotent, what fun. There was no bit of me thinking, ooh, let’s go back to that. Useless conversations until midnight, waking up at dawn feeling like a vampire on a day pass. No.
In March 2009, he was hospitalized due to heart problems. He postponed his one-man tour for surgery to replace his aortic valve, repair his mitral valve, and correct his irregular heartbeat. His publicist, Mara Buxbaum, commented that he was suffering from severe depression before his death. His wife, Susan Schneider, said that in the period before his death, Williams had been sober, but was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease, which was information he was “not yet ready to share publicly”. An autopsy revealed that Williams had diffuse Lewy body dementia, which had been diagnosed as Parkinson’s. This may have contributed to his depression. In an essay published in the journal Neurology two years after his death, Schneider revealed that the pathology of Lewy body disease in Williams was described by several doctors as among the worst pathologies they had seen. She described the early symptoms of his disease as beginning in October 2013. Williams’ initial condition included a sudden and prolonged spike in fear and anxiety, stress and insomnia; which worsened in severity to include memory loss, paranoia, and delusions. According to Schneider, “Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. He kept saying, ‘I just want to reboot my brain’.
On August 11, 2014, at his home in Paradise Cay, California, Williams committed suicide by hanging. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over San Francisco Bay the next day. The final autopsy report, released in November 2014, concluded that he “died of asphyxia due to hanging”. Neither alcohol nor illegal drugs were involved, and prescription drugs present in his body were at therapeutic levels. The report also noted that Williams had been suffering from depression and anxiety. 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 widow Susan Schneider Williams said.
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. He also liked Jay Leno for his quickness in ad-libbing comedy routines and Sid Caesar, whose acts he felt were “precious”. Jonathan Winters was his “idol” early in life; Williams, aged eight, first saw him on television and paid him homage in interviews throughout his career. Williams was inspired by Winters’ ingenuity, realizing, he said, “that anything is possible, that anything is funny … He gave me the idea that it can be free-form, that you can go in and out of things pretty easily.”
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. By bringing up such personal matters as a form of comedy, he told Parkinson it was “cheaper than therapy” and gave him a way to release his pent-up energy and emotions.
my dear pierrot
you made me smile
why did you go
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, interweb, poetpas