Robin Williams

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Robin McLaurin Williams was an American actor and stand-up comedian. Rising to fame with his role as the alien Mork in the TV series Mork & Mindy (1978–1982), Williams went on to establish a successful career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting. His film career included such acclaimed films as The World According to Garp (1982), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), and Good Will Hunting (1997), as well as financial successes such as Popeye (1980), Hook (1991), Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Night at the Museum (2006), and Happy Feet (2006). He also appeared in the video "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.


Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, Williams received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting. He also received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and five Grammy Awards.[3][4]

On August 11, 2014, Williams was found unconscious at his residence and was pronounced dead at the scene. According to the Marin County, California, coroner's office, the probable cause of death was asphyxiation.

Early life and education

Robin McLaurin Williams[5][6] was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 21, 1951.[7] His mother, Laura McLaurin (née Smith, September 24, 1922 – September 4, 2001), was a former model from New Orleans, Louisiana.[8] His father, Robert Fitzgerald Williams (September 10, 1906 – October 18, 1987), was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company in charge of the Midwest region. His maternal great-great-grandfather was Mississippi senator and governor Anselm J. McLaurin.[9] Williams's ancestry included English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, German, and French.[10][11][12] He was raised in the Episcopal Church (while his mother practiced Christian Science).[13][14] He grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he was a student at the Detroit Country Day School,[15] and later moved to Woodacre, Marin County, California, where he attended the public Redwood High School. Williams studied at Claremont McKenna College (then called Claremont Men's College).[16] Williams left Claremont and attained a full scholarship to the esteemed Juilliard School. In between Claremont and Juilliard, he attended the College of Marin for theatre.[17] He had two half-brothers: Todd (who died August 14, 2007) and McLaurin.[18]

Williams described himself as a quiet child whose first imitation was of his grandmother to his mother. He did not overcome his shyness until he became involved with his high school drama department.[19]

In 1973 Williams was one of only 20 students accepted into the freshman class at Juilliard and one of only two students to be accepted by John Houseman into the Advanced Program at the school that year; the other was Christopher Reeve.[20] In his dialects class, Williams had no trouble quickly mastering dialects. Williams left Juilliard in 1976.[21]

Television career

After appearing in the cast of the short-lived The Richard Pryor Show on NBC, Williams was cast by Garry Marshall as the alien Mork in a 1978 episode of the hit TV series Happy Days[2] after impressing the producer with his quirky sense of humor when he sat on his head when asked to take a seat for the audition.[22] As Mork, Williams improvised much of his dialogue and physical comedy, speaking in a high, nasal voice. Mork's appearance was so popular with viewers that it led to a spin-off hit television sitcom, Mork & Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982; the show was written to accommodate Williams's improvisations. Although he played the same character as in his appearance in Happy Days, the show was set in the present day, in Boulder, Colorado, instead of the late 1950s in Milwaukee. Mork was an extremely popular character, featured on posters, coloring books, lunchboxes, and other merchandise.[citation needed]

Starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Williams began to reach a wider audience with his stand-up comedy, including three HBO comedy specials, Off The Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1982), and Robin Williams: Live at the Met (1986). Also in 1986, Williams co-hosted the 58th Academy Awards.[23]

His stand-up work was a consistent thread through his career, as seen by the success of his one-man show (and subsequent DVD) Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (2002). He was voted 13th on Comedy Central's list "100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time" in 2004.[24]

Williams, along with Billy Crystal, appeared in a cameo at the beginning of an episode of the third season of Friends. Both Williams' and Crystal's parts were not originally in the script. They were in the building where the show was shooting and were asked to improvise their lines.[citation needed] Williams appeared on an episode of the American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Season 3, Episode 9: November 16, 2000). During a game of "Scenes from a Hat", the scene "What Robin Williams is thinking right now" was drawn, and Williams stated "I have a career. What the hell am I doing here?"[25] On December 4, 2010, he appeared with Robert De Niro on Saturday Night Live in the sketch What Up with That. In 2012, he guest starred as himself in two FX series, Louie and Wilfred.[26]

In February 2013, CBS announced it had picked up a pilot episode for a David E. Kelley comedy called The Crazy Ones starring Williams. The series was officially picked up on May 10, 2013.[27] Williams played Simon Roberts, a father who works with his daughter (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) in an advertising office. The series premiered on September 26, 2013,[28] and was canceled after one season.[citation needed]

Film roles

Most of Williams's acting career was in film, although he gave some performances on stage as well (notably as Estragon in a production of Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin). His first film was the 1977 comedy Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses? His performance in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) earned Williams an Academy Award nomination.[2] Many of his roles have been comedies tinged with pathos.[citation needed]

His role as the Genie in the animated film Aladdin (1992) was instrumental in establishing the importance of star power in voice actor casting. Williams used his voice talents again in Fern Gully, as the holographic Dr. Know in the 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, in the 2005 animated film Robots, the 2006 Academy Award-winning Happy Feet, and an uncredited vocal performance in the film Everyone's Hero. He was also the voice of The Timekeeper, a former attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort about a time-traveling robot who encounters Jules Verne and brings him to the future.[29]

Williams's roles in dramatic films garnered him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting, [2] as well as two previous Academy Award nominations for playing an English teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989), and for playing a troubled homeless man in The Fisher King (1991).[2] That same year he played an adult Peter Pan in the movie Hook. Other acclaimed dramatic films include Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Awakenings (1990), and What Dreams May Come (1998).[30] In the 2002 film Insomnia, Williams portrayed a writer/killer on the run from a sleep-deprived Los Angeles policeman (played by Al Pacino) in rural Alaska.[31] Also in 2002, in the psychological thriller One Hour Photo, Williams played an emotionally disturbed photo development technician who becomes obsessed with a family for whom he has developed pictures for a long time.[32]

In 2006, Williams starred in The Night Listener, a thriller about a radio show host who realizes that a child with whom he has developed a friendship may or may not exist; that year, he starred in five movies, including Man of the Year,[30] was the Surprise Guest at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards,[33] and appeared on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that aired on January 30, 2006.[34]

Williams was known for his improvisational skills and impersonations, and his performances frequently involve impromptu humor designed and delivered in rapid-fire succession while on stage. According to the Aladdin DVD commentary, most of his dialogue as the Genie was improvised.[35]

At one point, he was in the running to play the Riddler in Batman Forever until director Tim Burton dropped the project. Earlier, Williams had been a strong contender to play the Joker in Batman. He had expressed interest in assuming the role in The Dark Knight, the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins,[36] although the part of the Joker was played by Heath Ledger, who won, posthumously, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[37]

He was portrayed by Chris Diamantopoulos in the made-for-TV biopic Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy (2005), documenting the actor's arrival in Hollywood as a struggling comedian.[38]

Disputes with Disney

In gratitude for his success with the Disney-produced Touchstone film Good Morning, Vietnam, Williams voiced the Genie in the Disney animated film Aladdin for SAG scale pay ($75,000), on condition that his name or image not be used for marketing, and his (supporting) character not take more than 25% of space on advertising artwork, since Toys was scheduled for release one month after the debut of Aladdin. Additionally, Williams believed the character's voice was his property and did not want it to be imitated.[39] The studio went back on the deal on both counts, especially in poster art by having the Genie in 25% of the image, but having other major and supporting characters portrayed considerably smaller. Disney's book, Aladdin: The Making Of An Animated Film, listed both of Williams's characters, "The Peddler" and "The Genie", ahead of main characters but was forced to refer to him only as "the actor signed to play the Genie".[40]

Williams and Disney had a bitter falling-out, resulting in Dan Castellaneta voicing the Genie in The Return of Jafar and the Aladdin animated television series. Castellaneta was also hired for the feature Aladdin and the King of Thieves and had completed recording all his lines. When Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired from Disney and replaced by former 20th Century Fox production head Joe Roth (whose last act for Fox was greenlighting Williams's film Mrs. Doubtfire), Roth arranged for a public apology to Williams by Disney. Williams agreed to perform in Hollywood Pictures's Jack, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and even agreed to voice the Genie again for the King of Thieves sequel (for considerably more than scale), replacing all of Castellaneta's dialogue.[41]

When Williams re-teamed with Doubtfire director Chris Columbus for Touchstone Pictures’ Bicentennial Man in 1999, Disney asked that the budget be cut by approximately $20 million, and when the film was released on Christmas Day, it flopped at the box office. Williams blamed Disney's marketing and the loss of content the film suffered because of the budget cuts. As a result, Williams was again on bad terms with Disney, and Castellaneta was once again recruited to replace him as Genie in the Kingdom Hearts video game series and the House of Mouse TV series. The DVD release for Aladdin has no involvement from Williams in the bonus materials, although some of his original recording sessions can be seen.[citation needed]

Williams reconciled with The Walt Disney Company and in 2009 agreed to be inducted as a Disney Legend.[42]

Stand-up career

Williams did a number of stand-up comedy tours, beginning in the early 1970s. Some of his tours include An Evening With Robin Williams (1982), Robin Williams: At The Met (1986), and Robin Williams LIVE on Broadway (2002). The latter broke many long-held records for a comedy show. In some cases, tickets were sold out within thirty minutes of going on sale.[citation needed]

After a six-year break, in August 2008, Williams announced a new 26-city tour titled "Weapons of Self-Destruction". He said that this was his last chance to make cracks at the expense of the current Bush Administration, but by the time the show was staged, only a few minutes covered that subject. The tour started at the end of September 2009 and concluded in New York on December 3, and was the subject of an HBO special on December 8, 2009.[43]

Theatre career

In theatre, Williams headlined his own one-man show, Robin Williams: Live on Broadway, that played at The Broadway Theatre in July 2002.[44] He made his Broadway acting debut in Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 31, 2011.[45][46][47] He previously appeared opposite Steve Martin at Lincoln Center in an Off-Broadway production of Waiting for Godot.[48]

Personal life

Marriages and children

On June 4, 1978, Robin Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi. Their son Zachary Pym "Zak" Williams was born on April 11, 1983. During Williams's first marriage, he was involved in an extramarital relationship with Michelle Tish Carter, a cocktail waitress whom he met in 1984. She sued him in 1986, claiming that he did not tell her he was infected with the herpes simplex virus before he embarked on a sexual relationship with her in the mid-1980s, during which, she said, he transmitted the virus to her. The case was settled out of court. Williams and Velardi divorced in 1988.[49][50]

On April 30, 1989, he married Marsha Garces, Zak's nanny, who was several months pregnant with his child. They had two children, Zelda Rae Williams (born July 31, 1989) and Cody Alan Williams (born November 25, 1991). In March 2008, Garces filed for divorce from Williams, citing irreconcilable differences.[50][51]

Williams married his third wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider, on October 23, 2011, in St. Helena, California.[52] Their residence was Williams's house in Sea Cliff, a neighborhood in San Francisco, California.[50][53][54]

Family and friends

While studying at Juilliard, Williams befriended Christopher Reeve. They had several classes together in which they were the only students, and they remained good friends for the rest of Reeve's life. Williams visited Reeve after the horse riding accident that rendered him a quadriplegic, and cheered him up by pretending to be an eccentric Russian doctor (similar to his role in Nine Months). Williams claimed that he was there to perform a colonoscopy. Reeve stated that he laughed for the first time since the accident and knew that life was going to be okay.[20]


On August 14, 2007, Williams's elder brother, Robert Todd Williams, died of complications from heart surgery performed a month earlier.[55][56]

Addiction and health problems

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Williams had an addiction to cocaine.[2][57] Williams was a close friend of and frequent partier alongside John Belushi. He said the death of his friend and the birth of his eldest son prompted him to quit drugs and alcohol: "Was it a wake-up call? Oh yeah, on a huge level. The grand jury helped too."[2]

Williams started drinking alcohol again in 2003, while working in a small town in Alaska.[57] On August 9, 2006, he checked himself in to a substance-abuse rehabilitation center in Newberg, Oregon. He later said that he was an alcoholic.[58] His publicist delivered the announcement:

After 20 years of sobriety, Robin Williams found himself drinking again and has decided to take proactive measures to deal with this for his own well-being and the well-being of his family.[59]

Williams was hospitalized in March 2009 due to heart problems. He postponed his one-man tour in order to undergo surgery to replace his aortic valve.[60][61] The surgery was successfully completed on March 13, 2009, at the Cleveland Clinic.[62][63]

Other interests

Williams was a member of the Episcopal Church. He described his denomination in a comedy routine as "Catholic Lite—same rituals, half the guilt."[64]

Williams was an avid enthusiast of video games and named two of his children after game characters. He named his daughter after Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda action-adventure game series.[65][66][67] They both have been featured in an ad for the Nintendo 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.[68] His son may have been named after Cody from the beat 'em up game Final Fight.[69] He also enjoyed pen-and-paper role-playing games and online video games, recently playing Warcraft 3, Day of Defeat, Half-Life,[70] and the first-person shooter Battlefield 2 as a sniper.[71] He was also previously a fan of the Wizardry series of role-playing video games.[72]

On January 6, 2006, he performed live at Consumer Electronics Show during Google's keynote.[73] In the 2006 E3, on the invitation of Will Wright, he demonstrated the creature editor of Spore while simultaneously commenting on the creature's look: "This will actually make a platypus look good."[74] He also complimented the game's versatility, comparing it to Populous and Black & White. Later that year, he was one of several celebrities to participate in the Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day.[75]

A fan of professional road cycling, he was a regular on the US Postal and Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team bus and hotels during the years Lance Armstrong dominated the Tour de France.[76] He owned over 50 bicycles.[77]

He enjoyed rugby union and was a big fan of former All Black, Jonah Lomu.[78]

Williams was a supporter of eco-friendly vehicles. He drove a Toyota Prius,[79] and was on the waiting list for an Aptera 2 Series electric vehicle before the company folded in December 2011.[80]

In 2010, Williams announced that he would love to play the Riddler in the next installment to the Batman films by director Christopher Nolan, though Nolan has stated that The Riddler would not be featured in the film.[81]

Charity work  

Williams and his former wife, Marsha, founded the Windfall Foundation, a philanthropic organization to raise money for many charities. Williams devoted much of his energy to charity work, including the Comic Relief fundraising efforts (the program is hosted by himself, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg).[2] In December 1999, he sang in French on the BBC-inspired music video of international celebrities doing a cover of The Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock & Roll" for the charity Children's Promise.[82]

In response to the 2010 Canterbury earthquake, Williams donated all proceeds of his "Weapons of Self Destruction" Christchurch performance to helping rebuild the New Zealand city. Half the proceeds were donated to the Red Cross and half to the mayoral building fund.[83] Williams has performed with the USO for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.[84]

Williams also supported St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for several years.[85]


Williams was found unconscious in his home in an unincorporated area just outside Tiburon, California, at around 11:55 am PDT on August 11, 2014, and was pronounced dead at 12:02 pm, age 63.[86][87] The Coroner Division of Marin County suspects the death to be suicide by asphyxia, pending investigation.[88][89] According to his publicist, Williams was "battling severe depression" in the time before his death, though he would not confirm the reports that the death was suicide.[90] A forensic examination and toxicology test is scheduled for August 12, 2014.[91]

Williams's wife Susan Schneider said "I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken."[92]

Celebrities paid tribute to Williams, including fellow comedian Steve Martin, who tweeted, "I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul."[93][94] US President Barack Obama said Williams was "one of a kind", and someone who "ended up touching every element of the human spirit"


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  • Jay David (1999). The Life and Humor of Robin Williams: A Biography. New York: Quill. ISBN 978-0-688-15245-1.
  • Andy Dougan (1999). Robin Williams: A Biography. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 978-1-56025-213-9.
  • Stephen J. Spignesi (1997). The Robin Williams Scrapbook. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. ISBN 978-0-8065-1891-6.


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