The country was in shock upon the breaking news on Monday August 11, 2014 that comedian Robin Williams was found dead at his home from asphyxia. Early reports indicated it was quite possibly a suicide. That was later confirmed when more information was made available. Williams slit his own wrists and hanged himself in his home.
Robin Williams was a comic dynamo. And just as it is ironic that his strongest film success was in dramatic roles like his Oscar winning performance in “Good Will Hunting,” his real life denied him the pleasure and happiness that his work gave to others.
Williams was a true original, a comedian whose improvisational skills were often so amazing, one watched in awe rather than laugh. He would riff on tangents but always return back to the point he was making, his ideas exploding at such a rapid pace, his delivery sometimes had trouble keeping up with them.
However, there were other facets to his performance. He excelled in dramatic roles, sometimes combining both comedy and drama and deftly maintaining the delicate balance. In “Good Morning Vietnam” (1987), Williams played manic disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, which allowed him to riff his comic improvisations, but also provided the comedian with a meaty role with enough depth to also offer a level of dramatic performance that he would continue to build upon as an actor. Films like “Dead Poets Society” (1989), “The Fisher King” (1991), and “Good Will Hunting” (1997), for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, further exhibited his prowess as a dramatic actor.
Oddly, his comedy films were less successful, save for a few highlights, including the popular tour-de-force “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1994). Williams also did voiceovers for cartoon features, most notably the genie in “Aladdin” (1992).
Most of America became aware of Williams when he co-starred with Pam Dawber in the popular TV sitcom “Mork and Mindy” which ran from 1978-1982. But he had already been working hard on his craft as a comedian for some years before that.
Robin Williams was a talented performer at many levels, and apparently his personality had many layers. Bringing joy to others, his own life was riddled with infidelity, addiction, alcoholism, and now the 63 year old comedian has been found dead of an apparent suicide. He left behind a wife and three children as well as many friends. These friends responded quickly to the news of his death.
"I am completely and totally devastated. What more can be said?" — Pam Dawber, in a statement.
"I feel stunned and so sad about Robin. I'm sad for the world of comedy. And so very sad for his family. And I'm sad for Robin. He always lit up when he was able to make people laugh, and he made them laugh his whole life long.... tirelessly. He was one of a kind. There will not be another. Please God, let him now rest in peace." — Sally Field, in a statement.
"I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul." — Steve Martin, on Twitter.
"I saw him on stage the very first time he auditioned at the Improv and we have been friends ever since. It's a very sad day." — Jay Leno, in a statement.
"Robin was as sweet a man as he was funny. If you're sad, please tell someone." — Jimmy Kimmel, on Twitter.
"I've never known a sweeter, brighter, more considerate person than Robin. Robin's commitment as an artist to lifting our mood and making us happy is compared to none. He loved us all and we loved him back." — John Travolta, in a statement.
When Williams was a student at Julliard, he became good friends with actor Christopher Reeve. When Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from a horse, Williams visited him regularly. For his first visit, he burst into the room pretending to be a Russian doctor prepared to give Reeve a colonoscopy. Reeve recalled, “It was the first time I laughed.”