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Behind The Comedian: 25 Surprising Details About Robin Williams’ Life

There are few people in the world that were as talented and funny as the legendary Robin Williams. Williams was regarded as one of the greatest stand-up comics of his generation. He went on to become a hugely popular comic actor on TV and in film. He then impressed critics with several incredible performances in dramatic roles. He had a wide range of characters he could play from funny to serious. He also never lost his love of performing stand up comedy.

Robin Williams starred in several memorable films, such as, Good Morning, Vietnam, Hook, Jumanji and One Hour Photo. Sadly, Williams ended his life in 2014 but his legacy lives on. His unforgettable performances and characters have already transcended time. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest comedians and actors of his generation. However, Williams lived an interesting life both on and off screen. His fans might even be surprised to find out details about his life. He was a very open person but private at times as well. Here is a look at Behind The Comedian: 25 Surprising Details About Robin Williams’ Life.

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25 Robin Williams Performed As A Mime To Make Money

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From 1973 to 1976, Robin Williams attended the Juilliard School in New York City. It was evident by this point that Williams was an extraordinarily talented actor. During that time he would also spend his days performing as a mime at New York’s Central Park. He would often perform along with fellow mime Todd Oppenheimer. In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine took a picture of two mimes that caught his attention. He was impressed with their skills and personality. Later, Sorine realized that Williams was one of the mimes in the picture.

24 He Was Good Friends With Christopher Reeve

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As noted, in the 70's Robin Williams was accepted into New York’s Juilliard School. He was also one of two students accepted by John Houseman in the Advanced Program. The other student was actor Christopher Reeve. Reeve is best known for his role in the 1978 film Superman. Reeve was impressed with Williams’ incredible talents. Williams and Reeve became close friends and remained friends until Reeve’s death. Williams helped pay for Reeve’s medical care after he became a paraplegic due to a horse riding accident. In fact, he phoned Reeve a few days after the accident to cheer him up.

23 He Started Performing Stand Up In A Church

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Robin Williams soon realized that Juilliard wasn’t the right fit for him so he dropped out. He returned to San Francisco but couldn’t find work as an actor. He saw an advertisement for a comedy workshop in a church and gave it a try. He thought it was an acting workshop but turned out to be a stand up comedy show in the church’s basement. Williams gave it a shot and turned out to be really good at it. He then went on to become one of the top stand-up comedians in the world.

22 He was Accused of Plagiarism

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Robin Williams is often praised as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time. He was known for his frantic energy, improvisation, and stream of consciousness style. However, Williams was accused of plagiarism over the years. Comedian David Brenner claims that he once threatened Williams if he ever stole another one of his jokes. (MentalFloss) Williams later denied stealing jokes on purpose and noted that due his style he would inadvertently use similar jokes as other comics. His good friend Whoopi Goldberg publicly defended Williams as well.

21 He Wasn’t The Producers’ First Choice To Play Mork on Mork & Mindy

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Robin Williams had his big break when he starred as Mork in the Happy Days spin-off Mork & Mindy. The series aired from 1978 to 1982 but he made his first appearance in a season five Happy Days episode. However, Williams was not the first actor cast in the role. A different actor was cast but the script was said to be awful. The actor dropped out and producer Gary Marshall scrambled to find a replacement. He was blown away when he met Williams.

20 He Acted Like An Alien During Mork & Mindy Audition

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Robin Williams became world famous for his role as the alien from outer space Mork in Mork & Mindy. He had one of the most unique auditions for any actor in Hollywood. During the audition, Williams famously acted like an alien the entire time. When producer Gary Marshall asked him to sit down, Williams sat on his head. Marshall immediately loved him and gave him the role. Later, Marshall revealed that he gave him the role and didn’t look at any other actors because Williams was the only one to act like an alien during the audition.

19 He Trained With Lance Armstrong

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Robin Williams had many passions outside of acting. Some fans might be surprised to know that he was a huge fan of cycling. He liked it so much he decided to train in cycling and turned to his good friend Lance Armstrong. Armstrong is one of the greatest cyclists of all time but is also one of the most controversial. Armstrong trained Williams in the sport and Williams got pretty good at it. He loved cycling and it was one of his biggest passions outside of his career.

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18 Started The Celebrity Voice Acting Trend

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Robin Williams was universally praised for his voice acting in the critically and commercially acclaimed 1992 animated film Aladdin. The film was a major hit and part of the Disney Renaissance era. Williams is credited with ushering in the celebrity era of voice acting. Prior to Aladdin, voice actors who worked specifically in that field primarily handled voice acting. A study was conducted that showed an increase in celebrity voice acting following the hit film and Williams stand out performance.

17 He Was Upset Disney Used his Voice for Merchandise

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Robin Williams loved to act and make people laugh. However, he wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the entertainment business. Williams enjoyed doing his work but didn’t want anything to do with promoting merchandise. After the success of Aladdin, Disney went all out with the merchandise. They released a talking Genie doll and used Williams’ voice. He was very upset that they used his voice without his permission. He doesn’t like selling merchandise. He said, “I don't want to sell stuff. It's the one thing I won't do.” (Time)

16 He Improvised All Of His Lines In Aladdin

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Robin Williams was universally praised for his iconic performance as The Genie in Aladdin. Originally, the film was being considered for Best Adapted Screenplay but was rejected because Williams improvised so much. Initially, he was simply reading the lines in the script. He said, “I was just doing the scripted lines, and I asked, ‘Do you mind if I try something?” Several hours later he had flushed out the character. He added, “I improvised the character. I think that in the end, there were something like 40 different voices that I did for that role.” (TelegraphUK)

15 He Was Almost Cast In Midnight Run

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Despite becoming a world-famous star, Robin Williams still had to audition for roles and still, he didn’t always land the role. Williams auditioned for the role of Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas in the popular film Midnight Run. Williams auditioned for the role several times opposite Robert De Niro. Williams badly wanted the role but it went to Charles Grodin instead. Williams realized Grodin was best for the role but he was still disappointed. He said, “It was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’” (MentalFloss)

14 He Formed A Friendship With Koko The Gorilla

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Robin Williams formed many special bonds with fans and other celebs over the years. However, nothing was greater than his bond with Koko The Gorilla. Koko was a highly intelligent gorilla that knew sign language. Koko and Williams became close friends in 2001. Koko was shown Williams' movies and she insisted on meeting him. In fact, she insisted that he tickle her too. Their bond was so strong that Koko became incredibly depressed upon hearing the news of his death. In June 2018, Koko also passed away.

13 Returned To Broadway

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By the late 80’s, Robin Williams was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He starred in blockbuster films and toured all over the world. In 1988, he decided to focus his attention on Broadway. He starred in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot with Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The New York Times asked him if he thought it was career risk to do the play. He didn’t feel it was a risk and said, “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it or you’ll never be able to do the play.” (MentalFloss)

12 His Favourite Book Was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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Robin Williams' favorite book was the classic C.S. Lewis novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In fact, Williams was a huge C.S. Lewis fan and read the book multiple times. He later shared the series with his kids and often read the book to them. He would use different voices when reading the books to his kids. However, his daughter Zelda preferred it when her father would just use his normal voice. Williams cherished The Chronicles of Narnia his entire life.

11 Personal Struggles 

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Robin Williams struggled with depression throughout his career. He had his big break with his role on Mork & Mindy. However, it also came with a great deal of stress, which only adds to depression. Williams turned to unhealthy habits to deal with the stress. It eventually resulted in an addiction that he struggled to overcome. He entered rehab to deal with his issues. However, he continued to struggle with his personal issues.

10 He Was Good Friends with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg

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Robin Williams had many close friends but two of the closest were Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. The three comics hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Crystal joined Goldberg on The View to discuss Williams after his death. Crystal revealed that he and Williams would spend hours talking on the phone. However, they’d often portray other characters. When Crystal was coming to Broadway, Williams posed as a backstage hairdresser named Gary and left Crystal 50 messages.

9 He Helped Ethan Hawke Find His Agent

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In 1989, Robin Williams starred in the memorable film Dead Poets Society. It revolved around an English teacher who inspires his students. It also starred a young Ethan Hawke who was just starting his career. Hawke had attempted to be a serious actor while on set but Williams was always trying to make him laugh. In fact, he often teased Hawke for being so serious. Hawke assumed that Williams didn’t like him. However, when Hawke returned to school after filming he received a phone call from Williams’ agent. Williams suggested that his agent take on Hawke as his client. Hawke has remained with the same agent to this day.

8 He Kept Driving His 1966 Land Rover

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Robin Williams wasn’t a typical celeb that enjoyed spending millions of dollars on lavish items. He was a pretty simple person that enjoyed the basic things in life. Most celebs go out and buy the most expensive cars they can find when they first make it big. When Williams had his big break he chose to keep his 1966 Land Rover. He said, “I can’t deal with new cars. I like a car that’s like me—you never know what’s going to happen next.” (Time) Williams wasn't interested in purchasing an expensive Ferrari or Rolls Royce and preferred his Land Rover.

7 He Comforted Steven Spielberg During Filming of Schindler’s List

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In 1993, Steven Spielberg released the classic film Schindler’s List. It’s widely regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Spielberg has openly admitted that it was an emotionally draining experience. For the 25th anniversary, he revealed that Robin Williams routinely called to cheer him up. Spielberg said, “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone.” (Indiewire)

6 He Tried To Get One Of His Co-Stars Back Into School

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Robin Williams starred in the blockbuster 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire. It became one of the biggest hits of the year. Then 14-year-old actress Lisa Jakub portrayed Williams' daughter Lydia Hillard in the film. Lisa was kicked out of school because she took off a few months for the role and her teachers could not handle the workload of a non-traditional student. Williams wrote a letter to the school to try to get her back in. He noted that, “She is an asset to any classroom.” (Today) The school framed the letter but didn’t let her back in. Regardless, Lisa was amazed and honored the Williams tried to help her out.

5 He Had No Friends In His Younger Days

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As a child, Robin Williams was both overweight and incredibly shy. This resulted in Williams having very few to no friends. He spent most of his time on his own. In order to deal with his loneliness, Williams found ways to entertain himself. It was during this time that he began doing impressions. Williams would do different voices and celebrity impressions to entertain him when alone. The different voices and characters were Williams’ only friends. This helps explain Williams’ extraordinary ability to do countless voices and impressions.

4 He Forgot To Thank His Mother During His 1998 Oscar Speech

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Robin Williams was universally praised for his critically acclaimed performance in Good Will Hunting. In fact, he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards that year. It’s considered one of his greatest performances and a highlight of his career. In 2011, he revealed that he forgot to thank his mother during his Oscar acceptance speech. He said, “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience.” He added, “That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’” (MentalFloss)

3 He Named His Daughter After The Legend Of Zelda

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Robin Williams was known for his comedic timing and unforgettable performances. However, he was also known for being a huge gamer. He was a fan of many titles, including, Call of Duty and Legend of Zelda. In fact, he named his daughter after one of his favorite games, Zelda. He would later reveal that it was his son that came up with the name. He said, “It wasn't actually me; it was my son Zachary who came up with the idea. But once Marsha [his ex-wife] and I heard it, we said it was great.” (Time)

2 Improvised During Good Will Hunting

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Robin Williams was universally praised for his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting. Williams was known for his improvising and surprised co-star Matt Damon and the crew with an improvised scene. During a scene with Damon, Williams’ character tells a story about his wife farting in her sleep. The story was completely improvised and caught the rest of the crew off guard. Damon’s laughter in the scene is very real. In fact, the cameraman laughed so hard the camera is clearly shaking at one point.

1 He was Voted Least Likely To Succeed In High School Yearbook

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As mentioned earlier, Robin Williams was incredibly shy and it wasn’t until he started acting that he broke out of it. However, when he was in high school nobody was aware of his incredible talent and the superstar he'd become. In his Redwood High School yearbook, he was voted “Least Likely To Succeed.” It appears the students got that one wrong. In fact, Williams went on to become one of the most successful comedians and actors in the world. He won an Oscar, starred in critically acclaimed movies, made people laugh all over the world and was one of the highest grossing actors of all time. Robin Williams became a legend that will never be forgotten.

Sources: mentalfloss, time

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