Who Was Robin Williams?
After developing his improvisational style as a stand-up comedian, Robin Williams landed his own television show, Mork and Mindy, and moved into leading parts in film with Robert Altman's Popeye. He played numerous memorable film roles, both comedic and dramatic, and after three previous nominations he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in Good Will Hunting. On August 11, 2014, the actor was found dead in his home at the age of 63.
Early Life and Commercial Breakthrough
Actor and comedian Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951, in Chicago, Illinois. Eventually becoming one of America's funniest performers, Williams attended Claremont Men's College and College of Marin before enrolling at the Juilliard School in New York City. There he befriended and became roommates with fellow actor Christopher Reeve. Williams later experimented with comedy in San Francisco and Los Angeles, developing a successful stand-up act.
Williams had done work on TV programs like The Richard Pryor Show, Laugh-In and Eight Is Enough before becoming more widely known to American audiences as the alien Mork. The character debuted on the series Happy Days before being given his own show, Mork & Mindy. Williams co-starred with Pam Dawber in the zany, endearing sitcom, which debuted in 1978 and ran for four seasons.
Having been part of the cast of the 1977 romp Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses?, Williams made his big-screen debut in a lead role playing the famous spinach-eating sailor in Popeye (1980), directed by Robert Altman and co-starring Shelley Duvall.
A string of successful film roles for Williams followed over the years, showcasing his stellar comedic talents as well as his ability to take on serious work. He played the title character in 1982's The World According to Garp as well as a Russian musician who defects to America in Moscow on the Hudson (1984). Later, in Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Williams portrayed irreverent radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, while in Dead Poets Society (1989) he played free-thinking teacher John Keating. Both projects earned him Academy Award nods for lead actor.
While his career was taking off, Williams faced many personal challenges. He developed a drug and alcohol problem while working on the sitcom Mork and Mindy, and would struggle with addiction for more than two decades. He also became involved in several tumultuous romantic relationships; while married to actress Valerie Velardi, he was involved with other women. Williams and Velardi ultimately divorced in 1988. The following year, he married his son's nanny, Marsha Garces.
Despite personal setbacks, Williams continued acting. He appeared in the hit Penny Marshall drama Awakenings (1990) with Robert De Niro and Julie Kavner, and received his third Oscar nomination for his role as homeless man Parry in the 1991 redemptive drama The Fisher King. Tackling family friendly fare as well, he starred as a grown-up Peter Pan in Hook (1991) and provided the voice of the genie in Disney's animated film Aladdin (1992). Williams starred in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995) and Flubber (1997) as well.
His more adult-oriented films also made waves, including The Birdcage (1996) and Good Will Hunting (1997). His performance as the psychiatrist in the latter project won him an Academy Award as best supporting actor.
For the next few years, Williams took on a range of roles. He starred as the doctor who treated his patients with humor in Patch Adams (1998) and then portrayed a Jewish man in Germany during World War II in Jakob the Liar (1999). Based on a work by Isaac Asimov, Bicentennial Man (1999) gave Williams the opportunity to play an android who develops human emotions. And he returned to voice acting as Dr. Know in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence in 2001.
More Dramatic Roles
While best known for his thrilling humor, Robin Williams also explored darker characters and situations on screen. He played a creepy photo developer in One Hour Photo (2002); a writer of pulp novels in Insomnia (2002); and a radio host who gets caught up in the mystery surrounding a troubled fan in The Night Listener (2006). Williams returned to his comedic talents as well with Man of the Year (2006), a send-up of U.S. presidential politics. Ironically, that same year, he portrayed Teddy Roosevelt in the popular family film Night at the Museum, co-starring Ben Stiller. Williams also appeared in the family comedy RV with Cheryl Hines, Kristin Chenoweth and Jeff Daniels in 2006.
In the summer of 2006, Williams suffered a drug relapse. He admitted himself to a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism treatment that August. The actor quickly rebounded and, in 2007, he starred as a reverend in the comedy License to Wed with Mandy Moore and John Krasinski.
Later Career and Personal Developments
In September 2008, Williams started touring for his one-man stand-up comedy show, Weapons of Self Destruction, focusing on "social and political absurdities." That same year, he and Garces divorced, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams poured his energy into his sold-out shows, but health problems would derail the comedian in March of 2009. Several months into his fast-paced tour, Williams began experiencing shortness of breath. The complications led him to cancel performances and he ended up undergoing heart surgery.
While Williams was recovering, the actor was once again seen playing Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. In November 2009, he starred alongside John Travolta in the Disney film Old Dogs.
Williams continued working on a number of different projects. He made guest appearances on TV shows like Louie and Wilfred. In March 2011, he appeared on Broadway as part of the original cast of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, with the show running until July. On the big screen, reprising his roles of Ramon and Lovelace from the 2006 original, he lent his voice to the 2011 animated sequel Happy Feet Two. He and graphic designer Susan Schneider also tied the knot that October.
Williams had supporting roles in two 2013 projects: the romantic comedy The Big Wedding with De Niro and Diane Keaton, and the Lee Daniels' drama The Butler, where Williams portrayed Dwight D. Eisenhower. That year, Williams also announced his return to series TV. He co-starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the sitcom The Crazy Ones, which debuted in the fall. Set in an advertising firm, the show featured Williams and Gellar as father and daughter. The show was canceled after only one season. Then in 2014, Williams starred as disgruntled Henry Altmann in the film Angriest Man in Brooklyn.
Williams has three children: Zachary (his son with Velardi), Zelda and Cody (his two children with Garces).
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