Robin Williams 1951-2014

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The death of Robin Williams has shocked the world today, so much so that President Barack Obama released a statement expressing his grief. In the clip above, a stunned Conan O’Brien breaks the news to his studio audience and gets help from Will Arnett and Andy Richter to acknowledge the impact of this wonderful comedian and actor. Williams was found dead yesterday at the age of 63, a suicide after one final bout with depression.

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Born in 1951 in Chicago, Williams studied at Juilliard and broke through on Mork & Mindy (1978-1982), a spin-off to Happy Days, where he played an alien. By then he was also an established standup comedian, known for his rapid wit and improvisational skills. It didn’t take him long to move into films, a venue where he could combine his sense of humor with his dramatic skills. The Oscar nomination for and commercial success of Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) catapulted him to worldwide fame and he went on to charm audiences with Dead Poets Society (1989), Hook (1991), The Fisher King (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). Critics would be disappointed in him when he chose overly schmaltzy material, but audiences usually remained loyal… and Williams was always an incredibly reliable guest on talk shows and new standup tours where he could get bolder and raunchier than many of his family-friendly films allowed. The clip above shows his hilarious take on Keith Richards from Williams’s 2011 HBO special.

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This clip is from an interview Robin Williams made with the Australian ABC network in 2010. Unexpectedly somber, Williams talks about how important both comedy and acting is to him, the discipline behind his riffs, and which actors inspired him. He also gets into the problems he had with alcohol and drugs and it’s clear that he put much thought into the mechanics behind drug abuse and what it takes to defeat it – and learned how to use these insights to great comic effect. 

Robin Williams won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting (1997) and four Golden Globes. 

The past year we saw him return to the small screen in The Crazy Ones (2013-2014). He played Eisenhower in The Butler (2013) and the titular Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014). Later this year we’ll also see him in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Merry Friggin’ Christmas. The indie drama Boulevard has screened at festivals earlier this year. There’s also Absolutely Anything, a comedy slated for next year where he’ll voice a dog.

My five favorite Robin Williams roles on screen:

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Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) – As a radio DJ in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Williams found the perfect vehicle for his frenzied standup style.

Dead Poets Society (1989) – The role of a rebellious English teacher was probably what made many realize that there was more to Williams beyond the laughs.

Aladdin (1992) – Disney made the part of the genie all about the man who voiced him, a true sign that you’re a star. Williams’s career opened up hugely to family audiences.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) – As the devoted dad who finds an extreme way to spend time with his kids by dressing up as a housekeeper, Williams worked like an animal for laughs in drag. He certainly got them.

One Hour Photo (2002) – Williams gave his creepiest (and one of his best) performances in this thriller as a photo-lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family.

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