Robin Williams.A force to be reckoned with
A loud thud was heard around the world as Mork landed on millions of living room floors on a cool fall evening in 1978 in Boulder CO. That thud changed our lives. That was the moment when Robin Williams entered our lives and altered our perception of comedy forever
Legend has it that when Williams, an unknown at the time, was asked to audition for the part of Mork for Garry Marshall (the shows producer) Marshall was deeply impressed with his quirky comedic ability. When Williams was asked to take a seat, he immediately sat on his head on the chair. Garry Marshall cast him on the spot, wryly commenting that “Williams was the only alien who’d ever auditioned for the role.”
Mork and Mindy was a spin off of Happy Days that aired on ABC TV running for 4 years. It starred Robin Williams as Mork, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth from the planet Ork in a small, one-Orkan egg-shaped spaceship.
Robin was a laugh ’til you drop comedian for me. His timing was extraordinary his delivery impeccable. Of course that shouldn’t surprise anyone when you learn that his mentor was the brilliant Jonathan Winters who was featured in one episode of Mork and Mindy. Williams started out as a stand up comedian in San Francisco and LA in the 1970’s improving his improvisational skills by performing 6 nights a week at clubs like The Comedy Store. Williams says he found out about “drugs and happiness” during his time performing in San Francisco.
Robin Williams was born to real parents in Chicago in 1951. His Dad, Robert Fitzgerald Williams (1906–1987), was a senior executive in Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division, and his mom, Laurie McLaurin (1922–2001), was a former model from Jackson, Mississippi. He had 2 half brothers,Robert and Mclaurin. He attended public school in Lake Forest Illinois going to elementary and then junior high there until his Dad was transferred to Detroit where Robin was enrolled near where his family moved to in suburban Bloomington Hills, Michigan attending the private Detroit Country Day School where later he became class president. When Williams was 16, his father took early retirement and the family moved to Tiburon, California where Robin attended Redwood High School in nearby Larkspur. At the time of his graduation in 1969, he was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” and “Funniest” by his classmates, the latter being an incredibly accurate prediction!
In 1973, after several years of studying at local community colleges, Robin Williams won a scholarship to the acclaimed Juilliard School. He was one of 20 students accepted into the freshman class and one of two students to be accepted by John Houseman into the Advanced Program at the school that year; the other was Christopher Reeve. (Superman) whom he remained lifelong friends with, helping him emotionally and financially after Chris suffered a terrible horseback riding accident in 1995 that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. They also roomed together while studying at Juilliard.
Robin and “Superman” had a class in dialects taught by renowned vocal coach, Edith Skinner. “Skinner had no idea what to make of Robin,” states Reeve, as Robin could instantly perform in many dialects, including Scottish, Irish, English, Russian, and Italian. Their primary acting teacher was Michael Kahn, who was “equally confused by this human dynamo,” notes Reeve. Robin already had a reputation for being funny, but Kahn sometimes criticized his antics as simple stand-up comedy. In a later production, Williams silenced his critics with his extraordinary role of an old man in The Night of the Iguana, by Tennessee Williams. “He simply was the old man,” observed Reeve. “I was astonished by his work and very grateful that fate had thrown us together.”
Robin Williams was known for his improvisational skills, and no time was a better example of this than when Robin was doing his “stand up comedy.” He became a whirling dervish with voices, faces, and gesticulations that made the audience believe that there were 12 people rolled into one on stage, performing observational, improvisational, character, self-deprecation, surreal and stand-up comedy. Truly Robin was a human dynamo.
Not only was Robin Williams famous for his one man stand up comedy shows that he continued to perform tirelessly until the end of his life, but he also became a most accomplished movie actor with films like Popeye (1980)The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), Hook (1991), The Fisher King(1991), Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996), and Good Will Hunting (1997), One Hour Photo (2002), Night at the Museum (2006)and World’s Greatest Dad (2009). While Robin Williams was known for his wild and zany antics and the most unique comedy style I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness, he also became known as a dramatic and serious actor, winning a 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as teacher Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. He also received two Emmy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards throughout his career.
2005 Won Cecil B. DeMille Award
Among the actors who helped him during his acting career, he credited Robert De Niro, from whom he learned the power of silence and economy of dialog when acting, to portray the deep-driven man. From Dustin Hoffman, he learned to take on totally different character types, and to transform his characters by extreme preparation. In many ways Robin was a crucible, being able to create by osmosis, and the actors that he met and worked with throughout his career became part of that process.
In 1986, Williams teamed up with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal to found Comic Relief USA. This annual HBO television benefit devoted to the homeless has raised $80 million as of 2014. Bob Zmuda, creator of Comic Relief, explains that “Williams felt blessed because he came from a wealthy home, but wanted to do something to help those less fortunate.” Williams made benefit appearances to support literacy and women’s rights, along with appearing at benefits for veterans.
Robin Williams died at the age of 63, an icon of comedy, a man beloved by millions of fans around the world. He was someone who devoted enormous amounts of his time to performing abroad for the armed forces. He was a regular on the USO circuit, where he traveled to 13 countries and performed to approximately 100,000 troops. After his death, the USO thanked him “for all he did for the men and women of our armed forces.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on August 5, 2017.