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Remembering Robin Williams

Movie Still
Movie Still
Miramax

He was a man. Take him for all in all.

I shall not look upon his like again.

--Hamlet

We are now in a darker place. Robin Williams was found dead Monday in his San Francisco area home. Charlie Rose called him “the brightest star that fell to earth.” It is hard to imagine any comedian having more impact than Robin Williams. And I can think of no one in Hollywood who was more beloved. Billy Crystal tweeted “no words;” when’s the last time Billy was rendered speechless?

Robin was always the “smartest man in the room” who was too humble to admit it. But like his mentor Jonathan Winters he struggled with inner demons but these were complicated by drug and alcohol abuse for decades.

TV legend Dick Cavett recalled a moment with him years ago in a small club. He came off stage after bringing a cheering audience to its feet. “Isn’t it funny how I can bring great happiness to all these people,” he said. “But not to myself.”

It is often forgotten that Williams was a classically trained actor who studied under legendary John Houseman at Julliard, who told him he was wasting his time there and should go do standup. He left school in the late 70’s for a role in the hit TV Series Mork and Mindy. Many movies were to follow. Robin was very prolific, acting in as many as eight movies in one year.

Robin earned three Best Actor Oscar nominations — in 1987 as The manic DJ, Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, John Keating the passionate teacher in Dead Poets Society in 1989 and Parry, another DJ, nearly driven to suicide, in The Fisher King, 1991 — and won Best Supporting Actor as Matt Damon’s therapist in Good Will Hunting in 1997.

Noted film scholar David Thomson observes that “his movie work is the epitome of unevenness.” As with most prominent film stars, he made his share of turkeys; Old Dogs comes to mind in 2009 and the overly schmaltzy Patch Adams in 1998. (But Elvis is the only major star I can recall who never made a movie that lost money) And he freely admitted that he made a number of movies “to pay the bills.”

But there were other memorable films. He played he flamboyant mate of Nathan Lane, Armand Goldman in The Birdcage, 1996. In 1993 he made one of his biggest box office hit Mrs. Doubtfire with the dual role of Daniel Hillard and the indomitable nanny. In 1990 he played the sensitive Dr. Malcolm Sayer with his patient, Robert De Niro in Awakenings

Garry Marshall, creator of his first TV series Mork and Mindy, once asked Robin “Do you think we will ever grow up?” And he said without missing a beat, “I’m afraid if I ever grow up, I won’t be able to make a living.”

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