July 21, 1951 to August 11, 2014

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

Remembering the Genius

I’m of the Mork & Mindy generation. Although specifics of various segments of the mega-hit ‘70’s sitcom are hazy at best, the memories of Robin Williams in that iconic role remain utterly fresh—much like a first love in high school. The zany, unintelligible language spewed at warp speed; the rubber face that could stretch in any direction; the abrupt, angular, freaky movements that could easily have served as a precursor to hip hop—they all spelled genius.

One of his best friends, Christopher Reeves of Superman fame, wrote about Williams in his 1998 autobiography, Still Me. When the two met in 1973, according to the author, they were two of just 20 students accepted into an Advanced Program at New York’s famed Julliard School of Dance, Drama and Music, a program taught by John Houseman.

“an untied balloon”

Williams “was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released,” Reeves wrote. “I watched in awe as he virtually caromed off the walls of the classrooms and hallways. To say that he was ‘on’ would be a major understatement. There was never a moment when he wasn’t doing voices, imitating teachers, and making our faces ache from laughing at his antics.”

The transition from TV to movies was seamless. Williams jack-hammered the screen as the irreverent DJ assigned to a US Armed Forces radio station in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam; bequeathed a generation of movie-goers with the phrase “seize the day” as the English teacher who inspires kids in 1989’s Dead Poets Society, and polishes off the last vestige of doubt that he was an actor’s actor as the crazed vagrant who finds redemption with the help of a suicidal radio DJ in 1991’s The Fisher King.

All of these phenomenal portrayals lead to Academy Award nominations. He finally won as best supporting actor Oscar for 1997’s Good Will Hunting, the film that propelled Mat Damon and Ben Affleck to stardom.

Set to star in Mrs. Doubtfire 2 

Equally memorable were Robin Williams’ comic turns as the bastard son of an opinionated feminist in 1982’s The World According to Garp; as the voice of the wise-cracking blue genie in the animated Disney film Aladdin; and as the divorced husband who transforms into a daffy, lovable-nanny to spend time with his kids in 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire

He was set to star in Mrs. Doubtfire 2 next year.

His turns at stand-up—whether it be as a guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (or Letterman or Leno, for that matter), a USO tour, or a one-man show on Broadway—were consummate comedy—hilarious stabs at politics (the Bush Administration a favorite target), the human condition, current trends. He could careen from topic to topic, often abandoning a subject at midstream, only to latch onto some bizarre detour, which he rode full tilt to the end. Or the next detour.

We will miss ye, Robin. No doubt God is already laughing.

1 Comment

  1. Bonnie

    This answered many questions for me – not the least is the connection between Williams and Julliard. I didn’t know that drama was offered, and certainly didn’t know that John Houseman was a professor there!

    I just learned this morning that Williams had Parkinson’s Disease, which can cause depression in someone who never experienced it before.

    Robin Williams was one of a kind; I’d loved to have seen Mrs. Doubtfire 2

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