So sad to hear of Robin Williams’ untimely death last week – it’s made us think back to some of his great performances of the last thirty years. Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams began as a stand-up comedian and he continued to perform on stage throughout his career, despite reportedly finding the stand-up comedy experience extremely stressful.
He moved into television in the 1980s, appearing in Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. He was applauded for his improvisational style and quirky sense of humour, which undoubtedly led to his incredible film success throughout his career.
In 1987, Williams starred in Good Morning Vietnam, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He improvised most of the lines in the movie, which off-the-cuff impressions, which were very well received. Producer Mark Johnson:
Nobody else works with the inventiveness, the quickness and the zaniness of Robin Williams. When he sat down in the control booth to do the scenes involving Cronauer’s broadcasts, we just let the cameras roll. He managed to create something new for every single take.
Williams went on to star in a variety of films during the 1980s and 1990s including Dead Poets Society, in which he played English teacher John Keating. The film was an early example of the increasingly sentimental films he starred in and he was nominated for Best Actor for the role. The final scene was described as having “inspired a generation”.
One of Robin Williams’ most memorable roles was Mrs Doubtfire (1993), directed by Chris Columbus and based on a novel by Anne Fine. Williams plays a father who disguises himself as a Scottish nanny in order to spend time with his own children following a custody dispute. The film has been applauded as one of America’s funniest movies. Chris Columbus:
His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen, they came from some spiritual and otherworldly place
He appeared in many other successful children’s films, including Hook, Aladdin, Jumanji, Flubber and Night at the Museum. He played the genie in Aladdin (1993), another role which was improvised almost entirely by Williams and was designed specially for him. The film was incredibly successful, winning Williams a Golden Globe and encouraging more star voices to be included in animated films.
In 1997 Williams won an Academy Award for is role as widowed therapist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Maguire provides a parent figure for orphan Will Hunting giving support and advice. Williams’ performance is moving and thought-provoking and was well received at the time. It demonstrates his mastery of a wide range of acting styles.