obitoftheday

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Obit of the Day: Robin Williams

There was no one like Robin Williams. The frenetic comedian who trained at Julliard (rooming with Christopher Reeve), performed mime in New York City, delivered cocaine-fueled stand-up routines, and performed at an Oscar-worthy level on screen, broke the mold.

Having performed stand-up and improvisation in what became his hometown of San Francisco, the young comedian’s first big break came when a relative of Garry Marshall, producer of Happy Days, saw Mr. Williams’ act. Not long after, he was offered a role on the 1950s-era sitcom playing an alien named “Mork” from the plant Ork. (The story arc included a face-off between the erratic alien and The Fonz.)

Mork’s appearances were memorable enough to earn Mr. Williams a lead role in a spin-off, Mork and Mindy, which premiered in September 1978. Co-starring Pam Dawber as Mindy, the show was an immediate hit, the 3rd most popular show on network television in its first season. Mr. Williams earned a 1979 Emmy nomination for Mork, and a Golden Globe win that same year. (Tinkering by producers and the network doomed the show as rating plummeted over the final three seasons.)

His television popularity quickly translated to the silver screen with his starring role in Popeye (1980). The film was neither a critical or popular hit, however. Unfortunately his next two films did not do well either, with starring turns in The World According to Garp (1982) and Moscow on the Hudson (1984).

His value as an entertainer was not diminished by the lack of success at the box office. He returned to his roots in 1986 when he co-hosted the first Comic Relief charity event on HBO with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, a four-hour comedy-thon that raised money for the homeless. That same year he was in front of millions of viewers as the host of the Academy Awards.

A year later, Mr. Williams earned his first Oscar nomination for his role as Vietnam-era DJ Adrian Cronauer in the 1987 film  Good Morning, Vietnam. Although dominated by Mr. Williams’ traditional improvisational comedy riffs, he began to stretch himself dramatically.

In 1989, he endeared himself to millions and earned a second Academy Award nod with his performance as the beloved teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Although he left the ceremony empty-handed once again, audiences were fully aware Mr. Williams broad talent.

But Mr. Williams continued to perform stand-up for HBO and other network venues. Over the next 25 years Mr. Williams earned six Emmy nominations for his stand-up performances, winning two for Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin (1987) and ABC Presents: A Royal Gala (1988). Fittingly he earned his last Emmy nod in 2010 for his comedy, nominated for Weapons of Self Destruction

Throughout this early success he struggled with cocaine and alcohol addiction. He freely talked about using the drug before stand-up performances early in his career, he stopped his drug use for the first time after John Belushi overdosed March 5, 1982. (Mr. Williams was with the actor just hours before his death.)

After several relapses, Mr. Williams committed to his sobriety in 1986 when his son Zachary was born and he remained clean until 2006 when he re-admitted himself to rehab for alcohol addiction. 

During his sober period, Mr. Williams became one of Hollywood’s most successful stars. He voiced one of the most beloved Disney characters of all-time when he played the role of Genie in Aladdin (1992). (Years earlier, Mr. Williams narrated a Disney World exhibit on animation where he spoke of his dream of being a Disney character.)

The following year, Mr. Williams took on what some consider his greatest comedy role in Mrs. Doubtfire. The mix of a zany storyline with a heartfelt family message was carried by Mr. Williams in an admirable way. He would follow with other comedic performances in Jumanji (1995) and The Birdcage (1996), and American version of the French film La Cage Aux Folles. (The latter role is of note as Mr. Williams played the straight man to Nathan Lane’s scene-stealing Albert Goldman.)

In was in 1997, though, that Mr. Williams finally earned the industry’s highest accolade earning an Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire, Will Hunting’s (Matt Damon) therapist in Good Will Hunting. It was his last Academy Award nomination, and his first in five years since 1992’s The Fisher King.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, while continuing to do larger releases for mass audiences (Patch Adams, Bicentennial ManWhat Dreams May Come, and two Night at the Museums), he also tried his hand at independent films, either playing the villain (One Hour Photo and Insomnia) or starring in dark comedies (Death to Smoochy and World’s Greatest Dad). 

Mr. Williams returned to television in the fall of 2013 with The Crazy Ones his first foray into a weekly sitcom in 35 years. Co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mr. Williams played an ad man with Ms. Gellar as his daughter. It was canceled mid-season. 

At the time of his death, Mr. Williams had three films in post-production: Merry Friggin’ Christmas, a dark indie comedy to be released this year, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb where he will reprise his role as President Teddy Rooseveltand a British animated film, Absolutely Anything which is scheduled for release in 2015.

Throughout all this Mr. Williams suffered from depression that was not publicly revealed. Although he was open with his addicition, even returning once again to rehab in 2010, he treaded lightly on the topic of depression and never admitted to suffering from any depression-related mental illness.

When his death was made public by the Marin County (CA) sheriff’s office, his publicist announced that the actor was suffering from bouts of “severe depression.” His wife, Susan Schneider, who he married in 2011 released a statement which said, in part, “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Sources: SFGate.com, NY Times, LA Times, IMDB.com, and Wikipedia

(Video of Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam is copyright of Touchstone Pictures and courtesy of HrJrJossifov1 on YouTube.com. I chose this clip because it is safe for work and was the first Robin Williams film I saw in the theaters. Here are links to some of his NSFW performances: a 1977 routine on HBO, and his Live at the Met performance, Part I, a personal favorite)

Feeling so sad…