When news of his death came down the wires, it hit me, as well as everyone else worldwide, like a ton of bricks. I had grown up with Robin Williams since his break out role on Happy Days as Mork from Orson.
He took his success to his own TV show, Mork and Mindy. He parlayed that into a brilliant movie career that spanned three decades, coupled with an already established standup comedy routine.
You might not know about it, but he got his start working with another comic genius, Richard Pryor. Williams was a writer and performer on the failed variety show in 1977.
Now I’m pretty embarrassed to say that I have never watched Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Aladdin and Awakenings; and no doubt, I’ll have to check them out on Netflix and TCM in the coming weeks. But the movies I did see from Robin Williams showed his versatility and strength in improvisation. He became the character he acted upon.
Here are my top 5 favorite movies from Robin Williams. (Not in order)
1. The World According to Garp (1982) – This was his second lead role after the disappointing 1980 film, Popeye. Based on the novel by John Irving, film chronicles the life of T S Garp, and his mother, Jenny. Whilst Garp sees himself as a “serious” writer, Jenny writes a feminist manifesto at an opportune time, and finds herself as a magnet for all manner of distressed women.
2. One Hour Photo (2002) – After winning the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, Williams proved his serious side can be even more haunting in this film about voyeurism and stalking. Williams plays Sy Parrish, a lonely man who operates a photo lab in a big box department store. He escapes his dreary reality through the family photos of Nancy Yorkin and her family. His admiration of the Yorkins becomes an obsession, as he fashions himself as Uncle Sy.
3. Insomnia (2002) – That same year, Williams went even further with his anti-social kick by playing a serial killer. Fellow Oscar winners Al Pacino and Hillary Swank play Los Angeles homicide detectives, who are dispatched to Alaska during the summer to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.
4. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) – Set in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Williams played Adrian Cronauer, a DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service, who proves to be hugely popular with the troops serving in South Vietnam, but infuriates his superiors.
5. The Birdcage (1996) – Robin Williams delivered his funniest performance in this non-stop hilarious comedy. It was a brilliant US remake of the 1979 french language film ‘La Cage Aux Folles’.
Robin Williams was a beautiful ray of sunshine, giving joy to everyone he met. His humor even brought a smile to animals. But with all that brilliance and confidence in him, came the thoughts of the Smokey Robinson song “Tears of a Clown”.
Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there’s no one around
Regardless of what you may think of why he did it, Robin Williams fought demons that only he can explain. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. We can only hope that more people will come out of the shadows and talk about mental illness. It’s the only way we can understand and reduce the stigma of the disease.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams