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"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."

Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was an American actor and master comedian. Although he studied drama at Julliard (where his roommate was the late Christopher Reeve), Robin's preferred stage was to be found in standup comedy clubs. There he was discovered (several times) by TV producers and agents. Technically first appearing on TV in a failed revival of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and The Richard Pryor Show, Robin rose to fame as the zany alien star of Mork & Mindy, a role he quickly got in a way that was so distinctively him; when producer Garry Marshall asked him to take a seat for the audition interview, Williams immediately sat on his head on the chair. At that move, Marshall needed no more convincing that he found his alien.

In that series, his comedic brilliance at improvisation was so irresistible, the writers decided to bank time in the scripts for Robin to cut loose. During this time he struggled through addictions to cocaine and alcohol, and made his first major movie, Popeye, in 1980 — which proved to be a Troubled Production and a box-office disappointment. (His first film was actually a sketch movie called Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses. His scenes were cut out after the film's first release but restored for re-release just before Popeye came out.)

After Mork and Mindy was cancelled, Robin still struggled on the big screen, through The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, and the very poorly received Club Paradise. It wasn't until Good Morning, Vietnam that people started taking this comic seriously, and he got his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He was nominated again for Dead Poets Society two years later, and yet again for The Fisher King two years after that. He didn't win either time. He continued to churn out classic roles, like a grown up Peter Pan in Hook, the Genie in Aladdin (which helped establish the Celebrity Voice Actor as the "star" of an animated film) and the title role in Mrs. Doubtfire. In 1996, he starred in the Francis Ford Coppola dramedy Jack and starred alongside Nathan Lane in the hit comedy The Birdcage. In 1997, he finally won his rightfully-deserved Oscar for Good Will Hunting. After that, he went through a period of overly-maudlin films such as What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar and Bicentennial Man.

When these films became critical failures (and even gave him a disturbingly sizable Hatedom), he went into another period in 2002, one no one would have expected: his dark period. Death to Smoochy, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo established that he wasn't always so cute and cuddly, and all but Smoochy got rave reviews. Although he returned to the stand-up stage that same year, he continued to make films of all sorts of genres. Dramas like House of D, comedies like RV, and animated family films like Happy Feet prove that he could somehow still make terrible movies worse and good movies amazing.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Suffering from worsening depression for years, he took his own life. An autopsy revealed that he really had "diffuse Lewy body dementia", an even nastier condition which may have been misdiagnosed as Parkinson's, and was likely an aggravating factor in his depression.

His daughter Zelda Williams (yes, named after the video game character) is an actress and model.

Often dubbed by Kōichi Yamadera for Japanese releases of his films.

Not to be confused with English singer-songwriter Robbie Williams, or that chick who writes the computer books, or the American folk singer-songwriter who tours with his wife as Robin and Linda Williams and appears on A Prairie Home Companion, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, or the animator Richard Williams. Also not the lead singer of U2, despite the oft-noted resemblance.

A little public service announcement that we at TV Tropes would be very remiss not to make here: If you're feeling suicidal, please get help immediately. Talk to a loved one at the very least and let them know how you're feeling. There is help out there, no matter what you might believe.


Robin Williams and his works provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: He was open about his struggles with alcohol and drugs and joked about it frequently in his stand-up.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: While Robin wasn't Jewish (he was Episcopal, which he once described as "Catholic lite. Same religion, half the guilt."), he often sprinkled a bunch of Jewish references and Yiddish in his comedy act and in his film characters. In one of his last tweets, he dressed up as a rabbi and suggested a career change. He even claimed himself to be an "Honorary Jew".
  • And I Must Scream: Billy Crystal noted in one biographical special, Come Inside My Mind, that Robin's diagnosis with Parkinson's (later discovered to be Lewy body disease) caused this for his friend.
  • Attention Whore: While no one has ever called him this explicitly, out of respect for his legacy and the fact that he really was a good person, people who worked with him — actors, directors, etc. — have said that making people laugh was a drug for him, and this necessitated the focus being on him a lot of the time. The director of One Hour Photo even said that being unable to express that need to riff and joke when the cameras weren't rolling would negatively affect his performance when they were.
  • Author Existence Failure: Plans for a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire were cancelled after his death.
  • Beard of Sorrow: He typically grew a beard for his dramatic roles.
  • Black Comedy: His stock in trade.
  • Blithe Spirit: A common trait among his characters.
  • Butt-Monkey: He seemed to play either this or the villain in his later films.
  • Carpet of Virility: One of the most luxuriant in Hollywood, visible as many of his films have a Shirtless Scene. Notably absent from his Peter Pan scenes in Hook, though. One hell of a wax job that must've been. Also missing in the film version of The World According to Garp, where Robin played a college-age Garp. Twenty years later, author John Irving fondly recalled the matinal screams of Robin being waxed in his trailer.
  • Central Theme: A lot of his movies are tied to childhood and growing up.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: His stand-up routines were very salty.
    • One side-splitting Easter Egg on his Live from Broadway DVD was a rapid-fire montage of all the cuss words he used in the routine.note 
    • In one routine, he notes that the parents in his audience apparently ignored the "18 and up" label on the performance flyers.
      Kids, you're going to learn some new words today!
    • Pierce Brosnan, in remembrance, told of how Robin would watch his language around the children on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire but when the kids left, it was like a switch was flicked on and Brosnan knew that there was no way he would be able to keep a straight face because Robin would launch into the most profane and obscene routines simply to mess with the cast and crew.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Played one in more than half of his films.
  • Die Laughing: Not the man himself, but an audience member during his appearance Inside The Actor's Studio had a close call when he had to be taken out by paramedics for a hernia as a result of laughing too hard.
  • Dirty Old Man: Often referenced sex and porn in his stand-up routines. The final stretch of his last televised special, 2009's Weapons of Self Destruction, has him imagining what porno versions of some of his own movies would be like!
  • Downer Ending: His tragic suicide at the age of 63.
  • Drugs Are Bad: A staple of his later stand-up shows, often drawing from his own experiences (particularly involving cocaine and alcohol).note  One exception seems to be marijuana: while he brutally mocked stoners in 1986's Live At The Met, in Live On Broadway and Weapons of Self Destruction he was more favorable towards pot (one routine in Broadway is about how pot is less harmful than alcohol). One of his one-liners in particular stands out:
    Cocaine is God's way of telling you that you're making too much money.]
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Despite the difficult production of Film/Hook, he and Steven Spielberg became close friends from it and remained as such for the rest of Williams' life. During the very emotionally trying production of Schindler's List, Williams made a point of calling him up once a week and performing stand-up comedy to cheer him up.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: The Trope Namer. Williams' off-script riffing meant several of his kid-oriented roles were rife with references only the older viewers would get; hence, the trope references his Jack Nicholson bit in Aladdin.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Several of the movies and television shows he was cast in had scripts that said stuff like "Robin can go off here" at numerous intervals. In particular, Aladdin had numerous outtakes of extra footage where the animators let him ramble on unscripted so they could later cull the best bits to animate for the film and the opening sequence (where he shills to the camera as a travelling salesman) was entirely unscripted (they simply recorded him as a studio hand gave him random objects and had him describe them).
  • He Also Did: Everybody knows of his comedic and dramatic skills, but he also can sing and his first recorded stand up event in San Fran ends in a song; he also sang in Aladdin.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: He was this with Christopher Reeve from their time in Julliard together where they were roommates. The two remained close friends and Reeve said that Williams was the first person to make him laugh after his accident and was a major source of support throughout.
  • Hidden Depths: He attended Julliard and was seen as talented enough to be in the advance program. He often joked about directors wondering if he could do dramatic work and he had to remind them of his education.
  • Improv: Billy Crystal said that you couldn't take him anywhere because he would riff on everything.
  • Irony: Known as a Motor Mouth, he also spent time as a mime.
  • I Want My Mommy!: In his comedy skit "Shakespeare (A Meltdowner's Nightmare)" from Reality, What A Concept, his character (a night watchman at a nuclear power plant) cries out "WHERE IS MY MOTHER?" when he inadvertently creates a chain reaction by pulling the control rods of the reactor core.
  • Large Ham: Perhaps most noticeable when he appeared as the bit character Osric in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: Williams was known for his wide range of voices, as demonstrated in Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Money, Dear Boy: His starring in the The Crazy Ones and a large number of low budget films towards the end of his life was primarily because of financial reasons.
  • Motor Mouth: Oh boy could be talk fast.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Whenever he starred in a dramedy, you can bet the trailers would play up his comedic scenes.
  • Nice Guy: He was a really sweet and kind-hearted soul who wanted to bring joy to everybody's faces.
  • One of Us: The presence of a Neon Genesis Evangelion action figure in One Hour Photo was his idea. He was an avid anime fan. His daughter is named Zelda, after the Nintendo Princess (and they made an ad out of it for the Nintendo 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword). He also once joked that he could barely use a computer but he figured out how to play video games. His hobbies included bike riding, Warhammer 40,000, Getting Crap Past the Radar in television shows and family movies, and hanging a lampshade on just about everything in Real Life. Fan of the San Francisco Giants. Known to wear suspenders and loud Hawaiian shirts, but rarely both at the same time, although it did happen. He played Dungeons & Dragons. It's even rumored that he'd struck a deal with Nintendo to be their first choice to play Professor Oak should they ever make a Live-Action Adaptation of Pokémon. Had mentioned playing a sniper in the Battlefield series of FPS and was picked to demo Spore.
  • Painting the Medium: As he does his bit about Dock Ellis and LSD in Weapons of Self Destruction, the screen blurs out and adds motion trails to him to simulate the effects.
  • Parody Religion: His comedy album Reality, What A Concept has a segment where he plays the character Reverend Earnest Angry, imitating popular televangelists of the day and promoting the religion of Comedy.
  • Plagiarism: He was known as a notorious joke thief though it was mostly accidental as his rapid fire style of comedy meant he often repeated other people's jokes without being fully aware. He never denied this tendency and he made sure to compensate comedians for it with some receiving checks for as much as ten thousand dollars.
  • Playing with Character Type: One Hour Photo subverted his cheery, friendly persona to disturbing effect.
  • Promoted Fanboy:
    • Williams was a fan of The Legend of Zelda video games and even named his oldest daughter Zelda. He and his daughter were both later given the opportunity to star in the commercials for Ocarina of Time 3DS and Skyward Sword for Western releases, and Zelda herself was invited to the Super Smash Bros. Invitational Tournament at E3 in 2014. Nintendo had also told him he would be their only choice to play Professor Oak if a live-action Pokémon movie were ever made.
    • He was also a humongous fan of Looney Tunes, in particular the work of Chuck Jones. Not only did he present Jones with his honorary Academy Award in 1996, he had him direct an animated introduction for Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: It was often said of him that "his mouth moved as quickly as his mind." Williams is widely recognized as a master of this craft, almost all of which was improvised.
  • Sad Clown: As with most successful comedians, his love of comedy came from his personal struggles with depression. His tragic suicide was partially the result of learning that he was in the early stages of Lewy bodies disease.
  • Self-Deprecation: Did this a lot in his stand-up and interviews.
    • One bit from The '80s had him imagining an argument with his future son.
      Robin: What, Popeye wasn't good enough for you?
      Son: Popeye wasn't good for anyone! Who are you kidding?
    • Jimmy Fallon recalled a time when he was on a bus with several other comedians, when it got pulled over to search for bombs. Robin's immediate response was to tell everyone to throw all the copies of Popeye in his luggage out the window.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Along with his appearances on the trope-naming show, he did plenty of family-friendly roles and works alongside the more adult ones, particularly in The '90s.
  • Shrinking Violet: His dramatic roles tended to be this, mainly as a contrast to his comedic ones.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Was frequently like this when doing stand-up.
  • Throw It In!: Known for fighting with directors over how far he can vary from the script. Often it came down to "One good take done straight, then you can have fun." As such, all of his works have at least some ad-libbing, and guessing where he went off-script makes for a fun game.
  • Tom Hanks Syndrome: Zigzagged — he showed in later years that he could definitely carry serious drama, but comedy was still what he was most famous for, and he still did comedy flicks regularly up until he died. Even his posthumous releases are a mixture of comedy roles and dramas.
  • Troll: Oh hell yes. From messing around with the cameramen on the set of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, to buying Conan O'Brien a bicycle, bright green and orange with shamrocks on it, just so Conan would look silly riding it. There are legends that speak of his time on Mork & Mindy, of goading costar Pam Dawber into Corpsing and, of course, Getting Crap Past the Radar.
    Robin: They finally had to get a Vietnamese censor who spoke yiddish, 'cause the other censors are just going "I dunno what he's saying! He's saying things that are obscene I just don't know what they are!"
  • Verbal Tic: He uses a series of low-pitched mumbling noises and half-finished sentences/words to transition between different characters and topics, and a big part of what makes him a Motor Mouth. It is almost guaranteed to be part of any parody of him.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • He was reported to have auditioned for the role of Gendo Ikari in the Rebuild of Evangelion movies.
    • Rumored to have been the first choice to play Bigger Bad Lorenz Keele in the eternally delayed Live-Action Adaptation of Rebuild of Evangelion.
    • He was in line to play the Vortigaunts in Half-Life 2.
    • He had expressed interest in playing the Riddler in Batman Forever and was a fan favorite to do so, until Joel Schumacher took over the project and reworked the concept.
    • Before that, he desperately wanted to play the Joker in the 1989 Batman film, and his desire to play the role was actually used as leverage to get the preferred choice, Jack Nicholson, to sign on. Robin was not happy when he found this out.
      • He did later play a very Riddler-inspired character when he guest-starred on Law and Order: SVU.
    • He was supposed to play "Dr." Berlinghoff Rasmussen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Matter of Time", but he was busy working on Hook at the time.
    • There were plans to do an actual Mrs. Doubtfire sequel before his death nixed it.
    • Before J. K. Rowling insisted on a completely British cast, Williams was considered for the role of Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter.
    • As mentioned above, had it not been for his untimely death, he was Nintendo's first choice to play Professor Oak if they ever made a live-action Pokémon movie.

Like any celebrity, Robin has been parodied or caricatured a lot in popular media:

Live-Action Television

  • Saturday Night Live:
    • A "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketch in 2000. Robin is played by Jimmy Fallon, who does a pretty good voice impression. (When Williams died, Fallon, who by then was hosting The Tonight Show, did a tribute to him on the show that aired the night after, including excerpts of Williams' first Tonight Show appearance in The '70s.)
    • Robin actually engaged in some self-mockery in a 1986 episode he hosted in a sketch where he played himself as an Shakespearean actor who can't stop going into his improvisational routines, enraging William Shakespeare himself. In another skit, Dana Carvey played his hyperactive son years in the future.
    Elderly Robin: I don't have the heart to tell him he's adopted.
    • To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future, there was a sketch of previously unseen "audition tapes" for the film, in which Jon Hamm played Williams, auditioning for the part of Doc Brown.
  • In Living Color! featured a 1994 sketch where Jim Carrey played an obnoxious, hyperactive Robin at the Academy Awards. He was seen to make light of the Oscar statuette and the late film producer Irving G. Thalberg and interrupting actors playing James Earl Jones and Whoopi Goldberg (the latter of which grows tried of Robin's annoying antics and beats him about the head with an Oscar). Hilarious in Hindsight, as this skit aired just after Carrey's own career took off.
  • Non-parody example: In NBC's Made-for-TV Movie Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy, Robin was portrayed by Chris Diamantopoulos, who did an uncanny vocal impersonation.
  • Community:
    • It featured a teacher who thought he was John Keating, telling the class to "seize the day", "carpe diem" and the like. His class assignments are things like "tell 10 people you love them today". The kicker? He's an accounting teacher.
    • There's also a point in that same episode where Jeff is wearing a Mork costume.
      Jeff: Shazbot!
  • An episode of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!! had Eric giving Tim his own Robin Williams (played by professional Robin impersonator David Born), who goes out of control and runs away.

Music

  • In 2015, Iron Maiden dedicated the song "Tears of a Clown" from their 16th studio album to Williams.

Stand-up

  • Frank Caliendo has a very brief Robin Williams impression that he's been known to do. It goes something like "Joke not working, just switch voices." He even did a whole routine where Williams is in a remake of The Wizard of Oz starring him (in all the roles) and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
    "And the tornado comes! Sucks up the house, it's in the air, spinning like Barishnikov on amphetamines-I don't care if you didn't laugh at that joke, I did it just for me!''

Video Games

  • A posthumous tribute to Williams was added to World of Warcraft, where a genie-like character based on him can be found on an island off the southern coast of Draenor's Nagrand.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo honored Williams in two ways. First, with a semi-plot-relevant NPC with several comedic tendencies by the name of "Robbie", a Sheikah scientist who helps you understand Ancient technology and has a machine that is able to craft Ancient armor and weaponry with the right materials. Second, via a generic NPC named Dayto that wanders the region, but who bears an uncanny resemblance toward the late Mr. Williams. Unlike Robbie, as noted, he is simply a generic NPC who simply repeats stock lines when interacted with.

Webcomics

  • Though he doesn't appear on-panel, Dork Tower had him as a member of The League of Extraordinary GentleGamersnote , pestering game store owners about his tabletop gaming characters.

Web Media

  • The Onion poked fun at him occasionally — he vanished on a "free association" bender during the shoot of a movie version of My Three Sons when his improv got out of hand, and in the book Our Dumb Century we learn that scientists warned the U.S. government about "encroaching Robin Williams body hair" in the late 1970s.
  • When the orcs attack Balin's Tomb in The Fellowship of the Ring, the RiffTrax claims that they're actually something worse-"Morks! Hundreds of Robin Williamses!"-and goes into a brief impression.

Western Animation


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