By CornBREDX 19 Comments
I want to start with a warning. I may say some things about films that Robin Williams was in that you may consider spoilers if you haven't seen them. I recommend checking them out if you have any interest in doing that- he was in a ton of great movies and most are worth your time. Robin Williams Filmography on IMDB
Robin Williams death has impacted me a lot. I felt similarly impacted by my Father, Ryan Davis, James Gandolfini and also Ray Bradbury passing away (in recent memory I mean). For Robin Williams, as with most people who I only know of because they're famous, it's not so much because I knew him as a person, but because he was so much a part of my entire childhood (and early adult life) that I can't help but feel something for the passing of such a great person.
A lot of people tend to forget that Robin Williams didn't just play for comedy, and was passed over for an oscar he really deserved multiple times. He always seemed to take it in stride in interviews, and while his passion was always for comedy he was so much more than just a goofball comedian.
The oldest stand up routine I can recall seeing him doing he was so different than any other comedian I had seen at the time (and it was recorded before my time). In it, he constantly begs the audience not to leave. He often seemed to believe he wasn't even funny- when a joke he would say "didn't hit" he would utter "Oh no, I'm losing you" and he would start walking into the audience and coming up with jokes on the spot just to get a laugh. I have to imagine he was like that in life- often just coming up with jokes just so someone would laugh.
There was a controversy early in his career that he was stealing other peoples jokes. It did turn out to be true, and for a little while I was put off by that concept (he even ended up paying people for the jokes). I have come to believe that it wasn't really stealing so much as Robin Williams would not stick to a comedic script like most people and would often just say whatever came to his head. He was much the type of actor that liked to play around with a character or idea and just riff on it. Adlibing was both his talent and his curse.
This spread through his acting career, as well. The Terry Gilliam films he was able to take part in, I have heard he begged for any part in (I'm referring mainly to Baron Muchhausen). I don't know if that's true, but I suspect he was a big fan (who isn't really?) and would be happy just to have been in one of his movies. For me the Terry Gilliam films were the first time I had ever seen Robin Williams- or at the least the first time I noticed him.
Sure, he was in Mork and Mindy, but that was before my time so I only saw that on Nick at Night as a kid and really I didn't notice him as someone I want to see more of but rather he's a funny guy on this goofy show. I suppose that's partially because I was a kid, though.
In The Adventures of Baron Muchausen (one of my favorites) Robin played the god of the moon. A man whose body was in constant war with his own (literal) head. Just saying that sounds as weird as it is. I really can't imagine any other actor pulling off such an odd character, and even though it's over the top it's still one of my favorites.
Then there was The Fisher King. I remember this was the first time I saw Robin Williams as a more serious actor. He had done other more serious roles before this (Moscow on the Hudson comes to mind), but Robin Williams wasn't a thing in my mind at that time being that I was so youn gor not even born when he first started acting. Today The Fisher King stands out to me more so than his other films because it's one of a few films about PTSD that I have seen and can find something I actually can relate to. Robin's role as a homeless man haunted by his past is both charming and chilling all at the same time. He goes from being insane enough to get naked in a park, to real enough to be haunted by a dark knight who he believes is coming for him so he cannot bring himself to love someone again. This, of course, is explained more thoroughly throughout the film as something more real and tangible, but it's still one of the most touching characters he has ever portrayed for me and now that I am a military veteran with my own PTSD I feel it's one I appreciate even more.
Robin Williams did a lot in his career. He wasn't always in good movies. Some people have even expressed wonder how he ever made it; considering his first ever film appearance was in Popeye. It's considered one of the worst movies ever made (check it out on Netflix).
Everyone has their bad roles, though, and he would much later be cast as the genie in Aladdin- one of his more memorable roles at the time. Interestingly, Aladdin is my favorite Disney film, and in no small part is that because of Robin Williams. Even in that film he adlibed a lot and they used what they could of it (or so I have heard). It's truly unfortunate that he had a falling out with Disney as I think he would have been amazing in other voice over roles.
I would argue this is probably what freed him up to start doing a lot more serious stuff. Around the mid, maybe late 90s (i'm not referencing this stuff, I'm just kind of recollecting here) he started doing stranger things. More serious things, for certain, but I found it odd that he went from being a likable actor to choosing darker roles.
I think it was in the early 2000s he started with Death to Smoochy. In it he plays one of his most despicable roles. Danny Devito is certainly no stranger to dark comedy- it's his bread and butter- but the casting choice of Robin as a has been kids show host who hates the new famous guy so much he wants him dead is a real twist on the characters he generally played up until that time.
That same year he went on to start playing serial killers. Insomnia was the first time he played such a tortured soul. It's a deep film, that's hard to watch because Christopher Nolan's style with it captures the feeling of being awake but needing to sleep so well it's almost like a dream. Robin isn't in a lot of the film that I recall, but it was the second time he chose to play a role the audience was intended to dislike.
Again that year he played another serial killer role, but much darker than the last one. One hour photo is one of the most haunting films about a serial killer I have ever seen, and the character he portrays in it is probably the most disturbing Robin Williams had ever gone. Unfortunately, I could only find a trailer, but the climax of the movie is really intense. This trailer is decent for setting the films tone.
Shortly after that Robin wasn't in much else. He still acted, but he was starting to swerve off my radar. RV was one of the comedies he did around this time, and it was Robin doing his thing but not much else about it made any sense. Robin had done stupid comedies before, but maybe it's just the times, or maybe people don't know how to write anymore, but I'm not into what that kind of comedy is selling (I do still own the film and have watched it one time).
The final movie I can recall seeing Robin Williams in I randomly caught on Netflix. It was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (of all people) and was genuinely a surprise to watch. Worlds Greatest Dad is one of those dark comedies that sticks with you. The acting is phenomenal, but it's also very well written. You'd be forgiven for not even recalling you saw Bobcat's name in the credits. It's a surprisingly well done film that I didn't know Bobcat had in him.
I guess the years are coming up on us, and it's only a matter of time that our favorite actors from child hood start passing away. It's just an unfortunate thing it had to start what feels like so soon.
The circumstances of his death are only rumors at this point, so I don't want to speculate on his personal life. I really just wanted to look back and remember Robin Williams' impact on me throughout my life. For a good 30 years (that's most of my life) he was doing something that I had some kind of interest in. Either impactful or funny (there's so many I haven't even mentioned), he almost always managed to be one of those actors I would see a movie for (even if not until the DVD came out) just because he was in it.
As I close, I wonder about the stories I heard about Robin in the early 2000s. There were stories that he would randomly go to open mic bars in LA (I think it was) and do stand up just out of the blue. I have always wondered if that's true. I like to believe it is, because he was so full of energy and liked to make people laugh that even when he's a multi nominated academy award winner from countless films he still just wanted to know that he made people happy.
Rest in peace Robin Williams 1951-2014