Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 August 11, 2014) was an American actor and comedian of stage and screen.
Born in Chicago, he grew up in the city's northern suburbs and the suburbs of Detroit before graduating high school in Southern California. He began his performing career studying drama at the Juilliard School in New York City. At Juilliard, he demonstrated a gift for accents/dialects and amazed everyone by showing that he could turn off his dynamo energy and fully disappear into a character. He left before graduating after his instructors, some of the leading actors of their generation, told him they had nothing more to teach him. While at Juilliard, he was roommates with Christopher Reeve, with whom he became fast friends and the two swore to each other they'd support each other through thick and thinnote . Somewhat ironically, considering his reputation as a motormouth, he supported himself during his studies by busking as a mime in Central Park.
Although he was classically trained and had a knack for serious theater, 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, The Best of Times, 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 for any of them. 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. Williams was cast as the older Alan Parrish in 1995's Jumanji. 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 family films like Night at the Museum and Happy Feet prove that he could somehow still make terrible movies better and good movies amazing.
Towards the end of his life, Williams fought depression and was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2014. He tragically hanged himself in his Paradise Cay home on August 11 of that year. An autopsy revealed 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.note He was 63 years old.
Robin Williams' works provide examples of:
- Accidentally Correct Writing: During his Live On Broadway New York 2002 special, he does a segment where he jokes about what it'd be like if Jesus had a brother... which he did. Four, in fact; James (author of the book of the Bible of the same name), Joseph, Jude, and Simon. He also had an unspecified and unnamed number of sisters.
- 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. In Dave Itzkoff's 2019 biography, it is mentioned that some Jewish friends of Robin's claimed him as 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. His wife put it more pointedly in a paper:Susan Schneider Williams: Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating?
- Black Comedy: His stock in trade. Many of his stand-up routines involved adultery, sex, addiction, and what he considered to be the terrible state of the USA.
- 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."I've had women come up to me saying 'Don't wear fur!' And I say, 'Lady, it's me! I'm a fuckin' chia pet!'"
- 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.
- 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! (i.e. Good Will Humping and Snatch Adams)
- 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.
- 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.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: He peppered his stand-up with many different languages (including Spanish, Yiddish, and French) for comedic effect. He'd also do it on Mork & Mindy, hiding dirty jokes in foreign languages under the guise of speaking Mork's alien language to try and get as much inappropriate material past the censors as possiblenote .
- 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 Francisco ends with a song. He also sang in Aladdin.
- I Call Him "Mister Happy": Trope Namer. A Night at the Met has a whole routine based solely on his penis.
- Improv: A consummate master of it. Billy Crystal once said that you couldn't take Williams anywhere, because he would riff on everything.
- Every single one of his stand-up specials has at least one point where Williams addressed an audience member. Many of them involved people who came in to the show late.
- During the filming of The Birdcage, he and Nathan Lane were so thoroughly into bouncing off of each other with improvised dialogue that they started annoying the crew. Williams and Lane were eventually forced to promise that they would do at least one take for every scene exactly as scripted.
- Much of the Genie's dialogue in Aladdin was improvised by Williams. Due to his reputation for Black Comedy, the directors couldn't use most of it.
- His speech about his wife's flatulence in Good Will Hunting was made up on the spot. You can actually see a shot of Will go out of focus due to how hard the cameraman was laughing.
- Irony: Known as a Motor Mouth, he also spent time as a mime. He actually spent his weekends while attending Juliard doing mime performances on the steps of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to make money.
- 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.
- Jewish Smartass: Robin discussed stereotypical Jewish sarcasm when he made a joke about the Jewish origins of Jesus Christ, making quips about Jesus and his apostles going out for Chinese food, and Jesus inventing "Jewish Sarcasm" by repeating Judas' question about if he was the traitor in a mocking tone of voice.
- 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.
- Kevin Conroy, who was one of his roommates at Juilliard, has described in interviews how Robin would spend hours in the middle of the night practicing accents and developing new characters. It got to the point where Kevin would often mistakenly believe there was actually a group of people in the room with Robin, when he was actually alone.
- 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.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Whenever he starred in a dramedy, you can bet the trailers would play up his comedic scenes.
- Odd Friendship: With Christopher Reeve, who he met at Juilliard, and a more mismatched but deeply close pair you would never find. One of the first times anyone got Reeve to laugh after his injury came when a bearded Eastern European doctor barged into the hospital room and started jabbering in an indecipherable accent about all the rectally invasive procedures they were going to perform on Reeve - who then burst out laughing when he realized it was Robin.
- One of Us: He was a huge fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion. During One Hour Photo, his character gives a young boy a stock model of one of the EVA units; the model was from Williams' own collection. He also lobbied for the role of Gendo Ikari in the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. And, of course, he named his daughter Zelda.
- 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 in Fiction: His brain was like a sponge that would absorb jokes and bits from other comics and his freewheeling rapid-fire style of comedy meant he'd often blurt them out on stage without attribution. The originators didn't mind too much, because they knew he wasn't intentionally stealing from them and he'd pay them immediately once he realized what he'd done.
- Playing with Character Type: One Hour Photo subverted his cheery, friendly persona to disturbing effect. Williams commented in the commentary track that it was the only movie of his that he was ever able to watch, because the character was so unlike himself that he was able to see performance, and not himself.
- 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. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there's an NPC character named Dayto who has a striking resemblance to Williams. In the same game, the Sheikah researcher Robbie appears to be named after him and modelled after his personality.
- He was 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, but he also 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.
- Repeated Rehearsal Failure: One of his stand-up routines relates an encounter with the police while stoned. He psyches himself up by repeatedly rehearsing the line "what seems to be the problem, Officer?" before the cop walks up to his window. When the cop actually gets there, Robin just unleashes a random string of gibberish. Lucky for Robin that it was just a marijuana-induced hallucination, and he was actually still lying on his couch.
- 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.
- A bit from Weapons of Self-Destruction has him recall the time his GPS told him to make a right turn while he was in the middle of driving over a bridge. Quite the Harsher in Hindsight moment these days, but at the time it was merely yet another joke mocking one of his Box Office Bombs.Robin: No can do, HAL. Not that depressed, really.
GPS: Really, Robin? I saw Bicentennial Man.
Robin: Shut the fuck up!
- One bit from The '80s had him imagining an argument with his future son.
- "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.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Was frequently like this when doing stand-up.
- The Dead Rise to Advertise: Knowing of this trope, he left strict instructions in his will that prevent his use in advertising.
- 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 feature at least some ad-libbing on his part, 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.
- He did like to joke that whenever people expressed surprise that he could act, he would remind them that he did attend Juilliard.
- Unexplained Accent: During a stand-up routine on recycling, Robin imagines what raccoons would think about it now that their favorite food supply (i.e. trash) has been cut short. He then does a brief bit where he plays talking raccoons with stereotypical Oireland brogues. Immediately after, he admits "I don't know why I made the raccoons Irish, but it works!"
- 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 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.
- Had it not been for his death, he was Nintendo's first choice to play Professor Oak if they ever made a live-action Pokémon movie.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: He used a lot of Yiddish in his comedy, both because the words sounded funny and he could sneak profanity and obscenity past TV censors. On Mork & Mindy, it got to the point where ABC had to hire a Yiddish-speaking censor expressly to monitor what he was saying.Williams: 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!"
Like any celebrity, Robin has been parodied or caricatured a lot in popular media:
- 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 a 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.
- 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.
- In 2015, Iron Maiden dedicated the song "Tears of a Clown" from their 16th studio album to Williams.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Lord of the Rings: 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.
- In Season 6 of Epic Rap Battles of History he makes a surprise appearance at the end of "George Carlin vs. Richard Pryor''. EpicLloyd's impression was widely praised as being totally spot-on, and he became one of the show's few characters to get an overwhelming majority of votes to win, even up against four opponents.
- Robin popularized the Ink-Suit Actor trope with Aladdin, so when The Critic had to suffer through a remake of Pinocchio with an All-Star Cast of such, it was only natural that he be spoofed with the "Beige Fairy". Said Fairy is the Genie in all but name and color.
- Tiny Toon Adventures:
- In "Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian", in a rather dated reference, Robin as Peter Pan is seen flying around outside Amblin studios. He says "I can fly. Look ma, no wires!" before crashing into something offscreen.
- A short in "Henny Youngman Day" had Babs going to a local club's Open Mic Night to try to spark a career in Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy, only to find out that the in-world version of Robin Williams had stopped in for a surprise engagement. Babs choked out on stage until Robin (who had been told he was the final performer of the night) comes back out to give her an assist. Doubly touching, since it was the kind of thing Robin himself would have actually done in that situation.
- Robin (the "real" Robin) had a cameo at the very end of "It's A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special"...still dressed as Peter Pan.
- The Simpsons:
- "Special Edna" had a brief scene parodying Dead Poets Society with a John Keating lookalike appropriately voiced by Dan Castellaneta, who replaced Robin as The Genie in Return of Jafar and Aladdin: The Series.
- "MyPods and Boomsticks" featured The Genie in Homer's dream sequence (voiced by Dan but obviously a caricature of Robin's version). This was mainly a Shout-Out to Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, in which Dan Castellaneta took over the role of the Genie when Williams refused to sign on due to contract violations on Disney's part.
- In one of the comics, the family has just gotten a new satellite dish and is channel surfing with Bart. They come across a show called Celebrity Alien Autopsies and features, you guessed it, Mork on the autopsy table, wisecracking as usual.
- In one episode, a hole in the ozone layer forces everyone in Springfield to stay indoors. Kent Brockman reports that the only people who're safe enough to go outside without risk of being harmed are extremely hairy people, bringing up Williams as an example.
- Drawn Together: Xandir's genie boyfriend is an obvious parody.
- Family Guy often mocked him.
- Pre-renewal, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story had a man in the future get an episode of Mork & Mindy beamed into his brain, and he laughs in amusement."Ha ha ha! Oh, Mork, that's not how you sit in a chair."
- Not a portrayal, but "Petergeist", the first thing Peter does with the dead Native American skull is to use it as a puppet, saying thusly:
- "McStroke" showed Peter as Robin's "Jumping off point".
- In "Baby Not on Board", a cutaway shows Robin as Patch Adams, doing his routine. One of the kids in the hospital pulls his IV out to kill himself.
- Stewie outright says he hates Robin Williams in "The Juice is Loose".
- As fate would have it, that episode aired as previously scheduled on TBS the night Robin died.
- "You knew it was going to be a touching comedy because Robin Williams had a beard." - Brian in "Love, Blactually"
- In "Brian's Got a Brand New Bag", What Dreams May Come is one of the DVDs that no one wants to buy.
- In "Family Guy Viewer Mail #2", Peter gains the ability to turn everything and everyone he touches into Robin Williams. Hilarity Ensues.
- It is worth noting that in spite of all the parodies and digs at him, Seth MacFarlane did join in the mourning.
- Pre-renewal, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story had a man in the future get an episode of Mork & Mindy beamed into his brain, and he laughs in amusement.
- Robot Chicken has had two sketches with Mork in them. The first is a brief appearance during "Swedish Chef's Jaunt" (cute), and the second is in "The Top 100 Final Episodes Ever".
- The first episode of Bob & Doug (the animated series about The McKenzie Brothers) had yet another spoof of John Keating, who does the typical shtick before two police officers show up to take him back to "the home".Teacher: They can't catch me, not while I have this! *points to shoe, leaps out the window* CARPE DIIIEEEEM!