We have lost one of the funniest comedians of our time, Robin Williams, who reportedly took his own life. Authorities found him unresponsive inside of his Northern California home. For decades the Oscar-winning actor struggled with severe depression, alcoholism, as well as an addiction to drugs. Despite these formidable challenges, Williams always managed to pull through, and starred in many successful projects over the decades that touched us all in some way.
Whether you remember Robin Williams for his appearances on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, one of his memorable movie roles, or his loving demeanor, one thing is true–he was a gifted actor who made millions of people laugh over his long career. President Barack Obama had this to say about the talented actor: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
In his honor, we’d like to showcase Robin Williams’ greatest moments.
12) The Birdcage
In the 1996 adaptation of Mike Nichols’ French comedy La Cage Aux Folles, Williams plays an expressive, debonair gay cabaret owner living in Miami with his drag queen partner played by Nathan Lane. The film centers around a South Beach club and showcases the funny man in a more subdued role. Many say The Birdcage was ahead of its time, focusing on controversial gay subject matters and issues. Lane said the following about his co-star after hearing about his untimely death: “What I will always remember about Robin, perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent and astounding intellect, was his huge heart — his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague and fellow traveler in a difficult world.”
11) Patch Adams
One of Williams’ most popular and critically acclaimed movie roles was in the Oscar-nominated film, Patch Adams where he plays a medical student in the 1970’s who treats patients with humor. The character has similarities to the actor who was known to often do nice things for his fans, such as when he chartered a private jet to see one dying girl who had a wish to meet him. The director, Tom Shadyac, knew Williams was perfect for the role and said in a recent interview about choosing him to star in the movie: ‘I believe it was divinely appointed.’
10) Mork & Mindy
Robin Williams played Mork on Mork & Mindy, an alien who comes to earth from planet Ork in a small spaceship. The show aired from 1978-1982 on ABC. The character of Mork first appeared on the show Happy Days, which ultimately helped to launch Williams’ television career after guest-starring on a fifth season episode. The character was so popular that it led to a spinoff–Mork & Mindy. When Mork & Mindy first aired, Williams was an unknown actor who impressed producer Garry Marshall with his unique personality and funny voice.
The show helped to catapult Williams into stardom as millions of people watched him each week. He even made the cover of TIME Magazine the first season. Kids and adults loved the crazy alien who was a man and a kid all at the same time with his rainbow suspenders. And who could forget his catch phrase: Nanu nanu!
9) Good Will Hunting
Good Will Hunting let the world know that Williams was not only a great comedian, but also a gifted dramatic performer. Williams played the role of a therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire, who is hired to help a troubled boy played by Matt Damon. Some of the most memorable lines were improvised by Williams, such as the final line: “Son of a bi*ch! He stole my line”. For his performance in the film, Robins received an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor.
Williams began his comedy career in the mid-’70s after he graduated from Julliard and decided to move to San Francisco to become a dramatic actor. He did stand-up when acting gigs wouldn’t come his way. Over time, Williams became popular at open-mic nights with his hilarious accents and impersonations. He even landed appearances on The Richard Pryor Show and Happy Days.
Although he began to focus on his television and film career after reaching stardom, Williams continued to do stand-up. The audience responded well to his ability to improvise, quick wit, and relatable observations in all of his solo specials. Some of those most popular ones are Robin Williams: Off the Wall and An Evening with Robin Williams. Both of these showcase Williams’ comedic skills, always willing to go to the extreme to make the audience laugh.
Williams plays a mumbling sailor in 1980’s film Popeye where he was an obvious stand out. This was his first leading role and the character he portrayed was based on the E.C. Segar cartoons as well as the comic strip. Williams often mentioned how much fun he had playing the role, stating ‘He’s such a great, crusty character and an orphan, and sort of the whole idea of finding his Pappy and all that stuff he mumbles is pretty nasty’. Williams also commented on how much he trained for the role, doing gymnastics and tap dancing to prepare for filming.
6) Good Morning Vietnam
It’s no surprise that Williams improvised many of the well-known radio broadcasts in the movie Good Morning Vietnam where he played Adrian Cronauer, Armed Forces Radio Services DJ. Who could forget the line that is considered one of the most parodied phrases in film history–“Gooooooood morning Vietnam!” He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in A Leading Role and won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in A Motion Picture.
5) Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show
Williams once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that, you’re nothing.” While promoting the fourth season of Mork & Mindy, Williams was definitely carrying a huge ‘spark of madness’ with him that day as he showcased his crazy yet hilarious comedy point of view. It was 1981 when he made his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. He made Carson and the audience laugh most of the time, showing off his outstanding ability to do amazingly accurate impressions and infuse tons of physicality into his jokes.
4) Dead Poets Society
“What will be your verse?” This is one of the many great lines uttered by Williams’ character in the film, Dead Poets Society. He plays an English teacher, John Keating, who inspires his students to seize the day (carpe diem) and challenge their normal way of thinking. Williams’ character rejects the conservative culture of the elite Welton Academy and insists on making his students want more out of life–often using poetry to get his message across.
This year, Apple used an image from one of the film’s famous monologues as the backdrop for a commercial to launch its iPad Air.
3) Mrs. Doubtfire
In 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire was released and earned an Oscar as well as $219 million at the domestic box office. Williams plays Daniel Hillard, an unemployed voice actor living in San Francisco, who pretends to be his kids’ housekeeper to spend more time with them. For most of the film, we get to see Williams dressed up as an old lady and having a hard time pretending to be one. His physical humor, funny body movements and skill as an actor brought humor to the role.
Insomnia is an American psychological thriller that came out in 2002. After years of taking on mainly comedic roles, Williams starred in a drama where he plays a crime novelist with a dark secret. Kenneth Turan from The Times said, “Perhaps the most compelling of Williams’ non-comic performances, noticeable for the way the character’s unflappable calmness leads to greater and greater complexity.”
For the ’90s babies out there, Robin Williams probably reminds them of the 1992 animated Disney film, Aladdin, where he plays the voice of the main character Genie. This was right up his alley because he was a genius at coming up with different impressions, such as a Scot in a kilt to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He speaks at his famous quick pace throughout the film, even when Aladdin is singing. The film earned stellar reviews and grossed more than $217 million domestically ($500 million worldwide). Critics loved the wisecracking performance of Williams as Genie and he even walked away with a special achievement award at the Golden Globes for “a most unusual and outstanding performance which did not fit into any of the categories.”
“I started doing comedy because that was the only stage that I could find. It was the pure idea of being on stage. That was the only thing that interested me, along with learning the craft and working, and just being in productions with people. ”
You will be greatly missed.