It came as a complete shock for anyone who’d watched an episode of CBS’s “The Crazy Ones,” last season. Reading the Aug. 11, 2014, TVLine.com headline, “Robin Williams dead at 63 in possible suicide” is hard to accept or understand. Reports indicated Williams’ death appeared to be “suicide via asphyxiation,” but an investigation that began Monday morning will continue until an actual cause is confirmed.
Who didn’t love Robin Williams? To some Baby Boomers, he was “Mork” from Ork. Iconic television director Garry Marshall learned of the talented young actor through Williams’ work in comedy clubs. When Marshall cast Williams in “Mork & Mindy,” America fell in love instantly with Robin. Viewers were able to enjoy his talents in television and movies for a quarter century. On that journey Williams was nominated for multiple Emmys and Oscars awards, and he had won in both categories; and the IMDB data base noted he had 67 nominations for his full body of work over the years.
Two Emmys, one Oscar and six Golden Globes went on his mantle, but his gentle kindness and gift of humor became part of the mantle in every home of those who smiled back at him, just to know he was going to be on television or movies that night. The body of work that Williams gave to the world of entertainment was not only worthy of industry accolades, but he held a very special place in the hearts of so many who were fans of the man who made everyone laugh until tears came to their eyes. Today, tears come for an entirely different reason.
Born Robin McLaurin Williams, on Jul. 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, he trained at the prestigious Julliard School. It’s been part of Williams’ legend that he grew up, very quietly, in a home where his father, a car executive, had little to no sense of humor. Robin’s imagination was put to work at an early age, finding humor as his escape from boredom. He’d grown up idolizing the work of comedy icon Jonathan Winters, a man of hundreds of voices and characters, also beloved for his creativity.
There were many days during his early career successes, that Williams’ two diammetric personalities of insane comic and brilliant actor battled each other, both searching for acceptance. He’d often do a comedy routine of two personalities battling each other during stints as a guest on “The Tonight Show” or other television talk shows.
But the comedy was an easy pose for Robin. How often do audiences see the incessant hilarity on screen and assume that every moment in real life is just one fun house party trip after another for a comedian? The face of an accomplished clown can often hide the reality of despair and self-doubt. It was noted that Williams had checked in to a rehabilitation clinic just six weeks ago, yet his body was discovered today at his home in Marin County.
Williams had been apparently free of substance addictions for several years and was regularly open and honest about his earlier struggles as a guest on talk shows, whenever asked. He essentially came of age or came to national prominence as a comedian alongside several comedians who were veterans of “Saturday Night Live.”
And Robin indeed lived life “large and in charge,” and rarely missed a chance to party with the stars, as late and long as the parties could go on, back in the day. But he realized at some point what it was costing him to be away from his family. For the sake of his two sons, Zach and Cody, and his daughter Zelda, he was able to change his path and enjoy watching them grow. Then, he returned more actively to show business, where reality of acceptance and rejection may have weighed in more heavily, if at all.
A fairly accurate look at the life and times of Williams and John Belushi was included in “Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of ‘Mork & Mindy’ (2005), where Williams’ intersection in Belushi’s final days was included. Those days were far from bright and memorable for Williams, despite having achieved his greatest success (to date) in entertainment.
Actress Pam Dawber starred with Robin in “Mork & Mindy,” and after their run ended, fans had often hoped for a reunion between the two. One came, of sorts, when Pam Dawber came out of her longstanding absence from acting to star with Robin on Season 1, Episode 20 of “The Crazy Ones.” The program was broadcast on Apr. 10, 2014.
Although Pam had other acting opportunities after “Mork & Mindy,” following a few television movies, she was content to be a wife (her husband is actor Mark Harmon) and fulltime mom to sons Sean and Christian. Their episode together, “Love Sucks” was a great treat for audiences and fans alike, who were delighted to have Williams and Dawber together again. It is ironic that the program was almost the very last television episode Williams ever filmed. It was rumored that a “Mrs. Doubtfire 2” project was in the works.
From Mork to Mrs. Doubtfire, to Patch Adams and most recently Simon Roberts in “The Crazy Ones,” Robin Williams’ brilliant mind created characters with an apparent ease and great dignity such that you felt you had a real friend, if only across the television or movie screen. The world welcomed Robin Williams into their homes from 1978 through 2014 and simply adopted him as a very happy part of their families, that relative you’re always happy to see walking through the door, because you know you’re going to smile because he’s there.
In addition to his children, Robin is survived by his wife, Susan Schneider, whom Variety quoted as saying “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.” May his too-short life be remembered, not for today’s news, or the manner in which his life came to a halt.
Instead, close your eyes and see him as Sean Maguire, helping Matt Damon to understand “it was not his fault” in “Good Will Hunting.” Remember how he taught his class in “Dead Poets Society.” Remember his doctoring in “Patch Adams” and “Awakenings” and regard him as a very serious actor, a Julliard trained actor, who had bona fides for dramatic work alone.
Then remember all the times the ABC and CBS censors went out of their minds because much of his best work was in need of toning down for a family audience. Remember how many times you watched the movie and then said it out loud yourself, “Good mornnningggg Vietnammmmmm!” and then remember how many times you laughed and said, “Nanu Nanu.” Right about now, Williams may not be filing a report with Orson. But chances are better than average that he’s met up with Jonathan Winters, wherever he may be, and the two are settling in for a chat about old times. And there will be laughter