“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute,” whispers John Keating to a huddle of prep school boys. “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”
With his soft voice and unorthodox teaching methods, Robin Williams famously plays an English teacher who shakes up the conservative Welton Academy in the 1989 drama, Dead Poets Society. Who knows how many thousands of people he inspired to become disenchanted teachers? What we do know is that It earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and that even 25 years later his lines are being used by Apple to help flog their wares.
But although Robin Williams gave the film’s most memorable performance, he wasn’t the only Welton alum to set foot in the Old Indian Cave. Wondering what happened to the film’s other stars? Put on your blue blazer and let out a barbaric yawp—here’s a roundup of the main cast members...
Thanks to his television role on Mork and Mindy, and his film Good Morning Vietnam, Williams was already a star when he joined the cast of Dead Poets Society. He followed up the film with a string of successes that included voice work on Aladdin (1991) and starring roles in Awakenings (1990), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and The Birdcage (1996). In 1997, he won an Oscar for his portrayal as the psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting (1997)...(and by the way, “It’s not your fault.”) But while his on-screen career blossomed, his personal life was not as rosy: He struggled with alcohol after being sober for 20 years. Then, a pair of divorces cost the actor $20 million. Searching for a steady paycheck, he returned to television in 2013 after a 30-year hiatus, starring with Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Crazy Ones. Unfortunately, CBS cancelled the show faster than you can say “Shazbot!” In the meantime, Williams has been busy with two sequels Mrs. Doubtfire 2 and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
Robert Sean Leonard
Sure, Neil Perry spoiled the ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for all of us, but that didn’t stop you from shedding a tear when he snapped under the pressure of his domineering father, nor did it break your heart when he took his own life rather than follow his father’s dream of becoming a doctor. A confession: As a fan of Robert Sean Leonard, I’ve always imagined his role as Dr. James Wilson in the show House, M.D. as a kind of alternate reality where Neil grew up and went to med school under an assumed name. Is anyone with me? Either way, fans of Leonard can still see the actor on such shows as Falling Skies and The Blacklist.
After portraying Neil Perry’s scary father, Kurtwood Smith went on to portray Red Foreman, on the comedy series That 70s Show and Clarence Boddicker in Robocop. Arguably, both are strict patriarchs, however with slightly differing views on corporal punishment. Subsequent shows have included 24, Medium, and Resurrection. Smith has also done voicework on The Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Beware the Batman.
Captain, my captain?! Ethan Hawke was virtually unknown when he played Todd Anderson, the shy senior who lived in the shadow of his valedictorian older brother but in the end, triumphantly found the courage to give his beloved teacher Mr. Keating one final, defiant salute. Ironically, landing the film role prompted Hawke to drop out of school himself—not that it hurt his career. Soon after, he played the lead in White Fang (1991), then defined himself as a Gen X star in the 1994 film Reality Bites. In 2001, he played opposite Denzel Washington in Training Day. He has also co-starred with Julie Delpy in the Before Sunrise trilogy. Hawke was married to Uma Thurman for seven years before the couple divorced. This year, the actor/novelist will star in Boyhood, a film directed by Richard Linklater that was shot over 12 years.
As the central character of the film’s B story, the lovestruck Knox Overstreet carpes the ol’ diem to win the heart of a local cheerleader. After portraying Knox, Josh Charles went on to star in Aaron Sorkin’s television comedy, Sports Night and the film Four Brothers. He most recently appeared in The Good Wife but surprised fans earlier this year when his character was killed off. Recently, the Emmy-nominated actor starred in the film, Bird People, a French film about an American engineer on a 24-hour layover in Paris.
John Keating may have taught poetry to help students find their inner truth, but for Charlie Dalton, a.k.a. Nuwanda, poetry was all about getting the ladies. The crew’s rabble rouser, Gale Hansen played the role with a perfect level of smug aloofness—even when he was getting whacked to high heaven on his bum when he "assumed the position"...remember that painful scene? For many of us, it was the last time we’d see Hansen. He later appeared in the short lived series Class of ‘96 and the film Shaking the Tree. Nowadays, he works as a film executive.