Screen Robot writers post their tributes to the late Robin Williams.
In Robin Williams, who died yesterday aged 63, we’ve lost both a comedy genius and a dramatic actor of considerable weight. His career ran for decades, the actor starting out as a TV star in the late 70s, making a move into film as a serio-comic performer in the 80s and 90s, before mixing roles in comedy blockbusters and indies in the 00s and 10s, and coming full circle with a return to TV last year.
How Williams died will be the focus of countless news stories to come, stories mining gossip and soundbites for the juiciest, most grisly tales – but the ‘how’ is almost irrelevant. That Williams is gone, at a time when his career had cooled, is all that counts now. The actor will now never hear audiences of such varied ages expressing how much he meant to them, but we at least still have treasured memories to share.
Robin Williams, on top of being an extremely talented actor, is strongly tied to how I learned to be a film fan. Presently, if I love or hate a movie, I write about it, but as a child obviously that was not the case. I remember when Aladdin came out on VHS, I watched the movie every weekend for months. For the next two Halloweens I was Genie, because he was my favourite character. After watching Jumanji, I went to Toys R Us with my parents to get the board game. Whenever I had friends over we would play for hours. Williams had so many incredible roles, and his movies were some of the first to inspire me to do something about how I felt after watching a great film.
Some of the earliest film memories I have of Robin Williams are his roles in Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, and Jumanji. As a kid, I loved all of those movies. As I got older, I realised that there was much more to Robin Williams than his goofy voices and faces. The man understood comedy and the true art of making people laugh. If you go back and watch those films now, there are just as many jokes for the adults as there are for the children. To this day, the severely underrated Death to Smoochy is one of my favourite comedies ever.
Robin Williams, for me, was the quintessential Peter Pan in Hook. His serious-to-lighthearted transformation, coupled with him playing opposite Dustin Hoffman’s warmongering Captain Hook, became a staple of my childhood. The way he portrayed Pan gave me, young and terrified of the vast and overwhelming world, hope that becoming a grown-up didn’t mean sacrificing the joys of being young. His loss, coupled with Bob Hoskins dying earlier this year, felt like a very final ending to a treasured chapter of my life. I will always believe in Peter Pan, and only hope Robin Williams is at peace.
It’s not easy to be consistently funny (on-screen funny, not making-a-few-mates-laugh funny). It’s bloody hard to be funny to people of all ages and attitudes. A lot of good comedians and actors today have just one persona or niche, which is fine. Robin Williams had countless, and was about as fine a dramatic actor as he was a comedic one. And he managed to make you laugh without laughing at people – another rare gift. It shows he found the heart and humour in so many different types of people.
Robin Williams was the reason I chose to study One Hour Photo for my A-level coursework. He had that unique quality of being a comedic actor who, whilst being unquestionably funny, could bring believable depth to the roles he took on. His versatility as a performer was admirable, evident in the wide breadth of roles he played, from the cross-dressing dad in Mrs. Doubtfire, to the emotionally damaged Sy in One Hour Photo. This versatility, coupled with his comedy genius, is what I will miss most about this wonderful actor.
I’m genuinely heartbroken. Dead Poets Society was the reason I took English at university. The Fisher King was the reason I wrote my dissertation on The Holy Grail. Every time I was sad or demotivated, I would watch Good Will Hunting. You were all the laughs that everybody knew and more. I used to watch Toys with my mum when I was a kid. You had such a huge influence on the lives of our generation and I never even thought about it. I wish we could have helped you with your battle the way you helped us with ours.
The world has lost one of its brightest, warmest stars. A cruel twist that he would bring such immense joy to generations of children, and yet not be able to bask in that happiness himself. Here’s to the greatest actor of my childhood. Without spending those countless hours sat before his wonderfully wacky yet heart-warming oeuvre, I genuinely wouldn’t be the person I am today. His vibrant personality has touched more people than can be counted or realised. In his absence we must all hold on to that little spark of madness he brought to us.
I always saw Robin Williams as an example of how comics make the best actors, because their stand-up is essentially rehearsed spontaneity, and their skill is in extracting an emotional response. In interviews, I couldn’t watch him. Seeing him speaking a million miles an hour, desperately milking laughs, was like watching a tortured soul trying to avoid any sort of silence, in case the demons of sadness and depression got a chance to speak up. For me, it was too close to home. We won’t begrudge him his peace now. Time to take off the face paint, Chief. La commedia è finita.
“And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
– Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society
Re-watching Dead Poets Society last night – lump in throat, wine in hand – only served to confirm the magnitude of the tragicomic talent the world lost in the early hours of the morn. What a fine performance Williams gives here: at once subtle and aloof, nuanced and alive. It is one of the few film performances that can realistically be called inspiring. Watching it in hindsight lent the performance an almost morose sensibility, darkness behind the joy. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s just say goodbye, Captain, our Captain.
Robin Williams defined a generation with his stand-up comedy, television appearances, and classic movie roles in the 80s and 90s. His greatest role though, can be found in The Fisher King. His performance as Parry in Terry Gilliam’s dark fairytale was probably the first time I really saw Williams the man, as opposed to Williams the actor/comedian, on screen, his wild flights of fancy and anarchic spirit masking a tortured soul beneath. Rest in peace, Robin – you brought us all so much joy, but had trouble finding it for yourself. You will be deeply missed.
In my pre-school days, he was Mork – reruns of a vaguely-remembered comedic oddity still echo in the memory – and Hook’s overgrown Peter Pan. In my childhood, he was Aladdin’s Genie, Jumanji’s Alan Parrish and Mrs. Doubtfire’s Daniel Hillard. In my teens, he was Good Morning Vietnam’s Adrian Cronauer and The Birdcage’s Armand. As I grew older, as my film interests darkened, I looked to him in One Hour Photo, The Fisher King and Insomnia. But in recent years his projects hadn’t been so inspiring – I’d come to take Robin Williams for granted, forgotten that he’d entertained me, moved me at all ages. It took his death yesterday to remind me how wrong I was to forget.
Always bringing so much laughter to audiences, I best remember the late Robin Williams as the tattered and dishevelled Alan Parrish from the 1995 classic, Jumanji. With every watch and rewind of that battered VHS tape, his comic genius came alive in a movie that all but defined the magic and excitement of our childhood years. I always found the film to be a testament to his wonderful madness and the often overwhelming joy that he brought to the screen – he always did find a way to speak to the child in us all. Forever funny, forever brilliant in his own mad little way – Robin Williams gave us a lifetime of memories, laughter and joy.
Robin Williams has always been a treasured element of my childhood that I never failed to forget. His films have brought me endless joy throughout my adolescent and adult years, his talent never once waning in my eyes. The transitions made by Robin Williams were effortless – he went from comedy brilliance in Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook to an unhinged mad man in both One Hour Photo and Insomnia. His adaptability as an actor was inspiring to witness; coupled with the graceful way in which he stirred such powerful emotions in us all with his boundless talent makes his death a devastating loss to this world. We will never forget you Robin Williams.
Watch any of Robin Williams’s films – Hook, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Toys – and you will see the merging of melancholic reality, characters desperate to make others happy to the detriment of their own being. What Dreams May Come was my final viewing before the actor’s passing, a touching film about love, life and death. He wears no mask of comedy in what is arguably his best work; a testament to who he was; a dark light that will continue to flicker on and on. “I’m history! No, I’m mythology! Nah, I don’t care what I am; I’m free hee!” I hope so, Robin. We all do.
Featured image: Buena Vista
Inset images: Disney; Warner Bros; TriStar; 20th Century Fox; Fox Searchlight; 20th Century Fox; United Artists; ABC; Columbia; Miramax Films; Buena Vista; TriStar; Buena Vista; TriStar; Buena Vista International; PolyGram/Universal