Robin Williams’ fans sighed a collective, “shazbot” yesterday at the news of his death. Famous for his frenetic delivery, Williams became a star for his portrayal as space alien Mork, on TV’s Happy Days and later Mork & Mindy before making the jump to movies. Williams film career spans over 100 movies, and he continued to do standup throughout his movie career. As we remember him, here are a few of our favorite roles.
Robin Williams (in his first movie role) plays Popeye as as a balloon armed, squinty-eyed misfit in Robert Altman’s comic strip adaptation. Popeye still stands up as one of the weirdest comic book movies ever made. It’s surreal in it’s matter of fact depiction of the fantastic elements of comic book stories, but Williams brings a lot of heart and humor to his role as Popeye. Even though Popeye was an epic-bomb, Williams was able to re-invent himself in dramatic roles like The World According to Garp and Good Morning Vietnam.
Dead Poets Society 1989 – Best Supporting Actor Nomination
Williams plays John Keating, an iconoclastic English teacher at a stuffy boys prep school. Williams defines his “kind mentor” persona in this role, which landed him an Academy award nomination (he later won an Oscar when he perfected the mentor role in 1998’s Good Will Hunting). Don’t worry, Dead Poets Society doesn’t have any “how do you like them apples?” jokes. It is a pretty heartfelt coming of age story and Williams does a great job as the archetypical “teacher who cares about the kids”.
The Fisher King 1991
Robin Williams stars with Jeff Bridges in this modern fairy tale-esque story about a schock-radio DJ (Bridges) from Manhattan who has an unexpected connection to a crazy homeless man (Williams).
Directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Williams is fun to watch as he crosses back and forth between crazy/not so crazy guy in the titular role as the story unfolds. Gilliam’s visual style gives the fantastical elements of the story a dream like quality as Williams’ character goes in and out of his fugue-like state.
Even though Williams was one of the first “stars” to lend his voice to an animated role, he accepted a very small fee to voice the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Much of Williams’ performance was based on his legendary improv ability, so much so that that the adapted screenplay (based on A Thousand and One Arabian Nights) was turned down for Academy Award consideration. Animation turned out to be a great medium for Williams’ stream of consciousness, free-wheeling style.
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento) this remake of a Norweigan thriller stars Al Pacino and Robin Williams engaged in a game of cat and mouse during Alaska’s midnight sun period. Pacino phones it in as the sleepy-eyed cop (has he done any acting since Scent of a Woman?) but Robin Williams is chillingly creepy in the way he inhabits the role as the hunted man.
Our hearts go out to Williams’ family, friends and fans throughout the world.
Regardless of the circumstances of his passing, he was an ridiculously gifted actor and comedian who leaves behind a tremendous legacy of work. The movies above are a really small sampling that show the remarkable range of Williams as a performer. Although laughter may be the best medicine, the range of Robin Williams’ work shows us that he wasn’t simply just another funny guy.