Today would’ve been his 70th birthday and we really needed him during the Girth Vader years to make us intelligent and empathetic people cope better.
I do feel somewhat bad about liking Robin again near the end of his life and even more when he passed. It’s always a pisser but also comforting to hear/read all the stories about what a kind person Robin really was in person. Especially from his peers.
Robin first came on my radar via Happy Days. I actually saw the episode with Mork’s debut on its initially airing. Of course it was only a dream because they weren’t going to let the Fonz leave Earth to be a guest of Ork for eternity. However, the ratings and reaction were so fantastic, the Mork character got a new sitcom the next Fall, aka Mork & Mindy, making Robin a big star overnight.
I loved Mork & Mindy. Robin’s ad libbing, funny voices and outrageous behavior were a never-ending source of laughter for me through the end of my grade-school years. My dad got me a T-shirt I endured teasing from classmates over. Mork the Dork I’d hear. Little did I know, cocaine was what fueled the character. I did learn Robin’s stand-up material was dirty as soon as he landed an HBO special; my parents never let me see it. When Mork married Mindy and added Jonathan Winters as their baby Mearth, I felt the show was over yet the two comedians did keep it rolling the best they could. Behind the scenes, Robin used his stardom for good by getting his fellow stand-up friends guest spots: David Letterman, Bill Kirchenbauer, Jeff Altman and Pee Wee Herman.
Robin’s first SitCom ended with a whimper but it didn’t matter, he was rapidly propelled into movies. He starred in Popeye in between seasons and never returned to TV for three decades.
The majority of his films, I just can’t get behind since his manic style wasn’t used well (The Survivors with Walter Matthau), it became too much and tired after 1983 (Good Morning, Vietnam; Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire) or he was trying too hard to show he was more than a funny guy (Moscow on the Hudson, Dead Poets Society and Awakenings). One of his legacies is whenever a comedian tries to show their serious acting chops, it’s called Doing a Robin Williams Move. Jim Carrey quickly tried the same with worse results and it’s more likely due to him being a shitty person in private. The other joke was you could tell if it was a serious role whenever Robin had a beard.
There were gems within the crap, especially if he had a smaller role or was in an ensemble: Club Paradise, Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, Robots, Ken Branaugh’s Hamlet and Nine Months. He did get more selective by the Nineties. Jumanji was his best in that decade amongst dreck like Jack and Flubber. As cliché as Good Will Hunting was, Robin did earn the Oscar he won for Best Supporting Actor. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck continue to owe him a huge debt for their careers.
The Bird Cage was a bigger demonstration of his generosity as an actor. Originally, Steve Martin was cast as the straight man Armand and Robin would be the hyper-emotional companion Albert. Stupidly, Martin passed to star in the craptacular Sgt. Bilko dud. Robin willingly (or asked) to be Armand so Nathan Lane could get the most laughs. It worked. This went on to be Robin’s seventh box office cash machine.
His final years were filled with a lot of personal tragedy while it resulted in what I felt was his best work. The second divorce really smarted. He had a heart attack. He had a relapse with alcohol due to the movie Insomnia (Alaska messes with anyone’s circadian rhythm). Through it all he made his greatest, darkest, funniest comedy ever, World’s Greatest Dad with Bobcat Goldthwait directing/writing.
Robin’s passing brought out amazing stories from comedians I admired and love too. The first came from Dana Gould. Dana was in San Francisco performing, probably to distract him from what was then his recent divorce. Then an unknown number showed a text message with encouraging words. It was Robin letting him know, things would work out, cheer up. The second came from Brian Posehn reflecting on the tour which made him, Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford bigger stars; The Comedians of Comedy way in the early Aughts. After their show in San Francisco, they were doing autographs and talking to the fans. Robin was in the line, politely waiting his turn. Despite his fame, he didn’t cut, he didn’t remind anyone who he was, he didn’t request special treatment and he was over the moon to meet this new generation.
I may have said this and some of the above before when I wrote your obituary Robin. I continue to thank you for everything you did. You will always be missed. You gave it your all to make the world a better place and had the courage to do it while fighting your own demons, pain and suffering. May you have your rightful place with the other comedy legends for the next 1000 years.