Born on July 21st 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, Robin Williams was a quiet child who didn’t overcome his shyness until he joined the high school drama department in his teenage years. Graduating in 1969, Williams was voted “most likely not to succeed” and “funniest” by his class. Oh, how wrong, on one hand, and right on the other, they were.
Robin began his comedy career as a stand-up comic, doing shows in the San Francisco Bay Area. Making his screen debut in a sexualised skit comedy called “Can I do it ‘til I need glasses” in 1977 and appearing on The Richard Pryor Show the same year, Robin had poked his foot through the door of Hollywood where he would stay for his remaining 37 years. It was one year later, in 1978, that Williams career would take a turn for the better after being cast by Garry Marshall in Happy Days as “Mork”, an alien character who would eventually catapult Robin into the mainstream when television executives decided to launch a spin-off show based on the cult success of William’s turn in Happy Days, named Mork & Mindy. Mork & Mindy aired from 1978 until 1982 and gave us 94 episodes in that time. A wonderful, funny and heart-warming series, Mork, the loveable alien from Ork, made Robin Williams a star, and it was after waving goodbye to the character in the early 80’s that Williams’ career truly took off. In 1987, Robin was cast as the lead in what remains my favourite of his catalogue of films, Good Morning, Vietnam. Directed by Barry Levinson, who would go on to cast Robin in the 1992 film “Toys”, Good Morning, Vietman was a brilliant movie, mixing comedy and drama over a backdrop of the Vietnam war, Williams’ character of Adrian Cronauer was funny, energetic and yet had a reason for being so, attempting to bring joy and laughter to the lives of the soldiers who were living in such dangerous times. I still love the film, and Robin’s performance in it.
Robin Williams would end the 1980’s with another of his iconic roles, John Keating, in Dead Poets Society, a wonderful drama in which he played an English teacher out to inspire his students. It was the 90’s in which many people will remember Robin Williams’ career and his vast amount of memorable performances. The Fisher King, Awakenings and Hook began the 90’s for Williams, followed by films like Aladdin, in which Williams famously voiced “The Genie”, Toys and, in 1993, another of his most famous roles, Mrs Doubtfire. A comedy hit in which Williams dressed as an elderly Scottish woman in order to fool his ex-wife into being hired as a housekeeper so he could see his three children, the film did massive business and introduced Robin to a new generation of film goers in the process. With Nine Months, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack, Flubber, Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams and many others, the 90’s was a hugely successful decade for him and he became one of the faces of my childhood because of it. Watching him in comedy and drama roles as the approachable, often down-trodden, always determined character was a joy to see, and I can always watch many of his 80’s and 90’s films and enjoy them, they just don’t make them like that anymore.
As the Millennium reared its head and changes were afoot, Robin Williams began the 00’s by stepping into new roles, trying different things and attempting to reinvent himself as an actor. In 2002, One Hour Photo was released, a tense and suspenseful thriller in which Williams played an obsessed stalker who worked at a photo-development booth in a supermarket. It was a dark and sinister role for Robin, and it shocked audiences to see the loveable comedy actor doing this sort of film, but it remains one of my personal favourites of his and shows off just how good of an actor he was, and how he was more than capable of doing serious as well as comical roles. The 00’s were a slower time for Williams and the quality of his output was mixed, but there were still some diamonds in there. Insomnia and World’s Greatest Dad stand out to me as his best of the decade, though he was a part of hugely successful films like Happy Feet, Night at the Museum and their sequels. In 2014 Williams was a part of films like Boulevard and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and filmed his part on the third Night at the Museum film.
When you look at the career of Robin Williams and the large number of films he made, it is astounding to think that he remained relevant and put his energy into every performance from the end of the 70’s until 2014. His roles have been iconic and etched in the memory of anyone who saw them, and he was a large part of many movie lovers’ lives. I will remember his howling greeting of “good morning, Vietnam”, his energetic and hilarious animated blue genie, his greeting of “Nanu-Nanu” and the dozens of other memorable roles he has played over the years. I’ll revisit them often and enjoy them as much as I did when I first saw them.
Robin Williams passed away on August 11th 2014, found in his home by his personal assistant. The cause of death was revealed as “asphyxia due to hanging” and ruled a suicide. Battling depression, the passing of one of Hollywood’s best should, if anything is taken away from this tragedy, open eyes about the stigma attached to depression and those that struggle with it on a daily basis. There needs to be more support and more open mindedness in society in 2014 for an illness that has, and will continue, to claim lives. Leaving behind three children, Zachary, Zelda and Cody, as well as his wife Susan, Robin Williams will be fondly remembered by those of us who watched him as we grew up and appreciated his body of work.