A True Comic Genius, Robin Williams Gone Too Soon At Age 63

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Career restrospective

Photo By Jay Paul For The New York Times

The word “Genius,” gets used far too often and far too lightly in our hyperbolic society, but in the case of comedian Robin Williams,  anybody who saw him at the top of his game realized that he indeed was the genuine article. “The “New York Times” reported that the comedian passed away Monday morning, in what the Marin County Sheriff’s Dept. has labeled a probable suicide due to asphyxiation. According to the report, a call came into 911 stating that a man inside the residence had stopped breathing, officers pronounced him dead at 12:02 pm PDT.

Williams was a cast-member of the Laugh-In reboot that NBC broadcast for one year in the mid-seventies, but the series didn’t last long due to anemic ratings. He would however strike comedy-gold in his next venture for the small-screen, portraying a visitor from another planet named Ork and his character’s name was Mork. It actually was a spinoff of the Gary Marshall hit comedy series “Happy Days,” as the alien visited Earth in the fifties before deciding to choose the seventies as the era he wanted to live in. The premise of the series was an attractive young woman named Mindy (Pam Dawber) from Boulder, Colorado saw him land on Earth and took him to her apartment and the two became roommates. The show entitled “Mork And Mindy,” became a huge hit for ABC and a perfect showcase for the manic Williams. The final season after the couple had married, Mork gave birth to a son, hatched from a giant egg and portrayed by his kindred spirit Jonathan Winters.

While the show was still airing first-run episodes, Williams ventured into films, the first two being rather underwhelming. He played the title character in the film version of the John Irving novel “The World According To Garp,” and his fans got excited when he got the role of Popeye in the Robert Altman film with the same name. The film did poorly at the box-office, as Altman most likely should not have been the director. The movie also concentrated on Thimble Town, the hometown of Olive Oyl, featured in the original comic strips that ran in newspapers, but were in none of the animated features.

His film career became far more successful as he starred in a series of quality movies, with characters that he could bring to life. One of his first big hits was a drama entitled “Moscow On The Hudson,” where Williams played a defector from the Soviet Union, who came to New York with the circus troupe he belonged to, but decided to stay when his troupe traveled to their next stop on the tour. It was basically a coming of age tale about a fish out of water and his performance delighted audiences.

Williams got nominated for an Academy Award Nomination in 1987, for his portrayal of US Army dee-jay Adrian Cronauer in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” and though he didn’t win the award, it put him in the mix for some other great roles. One of the best performances he ever portrayed also received an  Oscar nomination in “Dead Poets Society,” as he played a teacher that any student would have killed for. He inspired his students with knowledge and each pupil addressed him as “Captain My Captain.”

He followed that up playing a homeless man bombarded by danger on all fronts who had to deal with the demons inside him called the “Fisher King” a sad story about a man, who forgot about all the joy of  life and suffered in adversity. He copped another nomination but once again fell short of grabbing his first Oscar. His next two -movies were smash hits and although Williams was incredible in both roles,  neither part earned him the Academy Award. One of them put Robin in drag, as a divorced father hired as the in-home nanny for his children as he portrayed the title character in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The other one featured only his voice, so perhaps that’s the reason he did not receive a nomination, as he brought to life the GENIE in Disney’s “Aladdin.” He never seemed as at ease ad-libbing since his days with Mork and Mindy delighting audiences around the globe.

He would finally nail down an Oscar, although as a supporting actor in “Good Will Hunting,” The film made Ben Affleck and Matt Damon superstars and are still major players in Hollywood. Robin no longer receiving the roles he desired on the big screen,  decided to make the switch back to TV, starring in “The Crazy Ones.”  I actually watched the first episode and although it was a cute show, it didn’t give me enough of a reason to sample a second episode and apparently CBS felt the same way as the show got cancelled at the end of the regular season.

Williams was an incredible standup comic and my wife got to see him about 30-years ago, one of the most entertaining shows either of us had ever seen. They say there’s a fine line between Genius and Madness, perhaps all that creativity took too much of a toll on him and he decided the internal demons he fought were finally too much to withstand.

RIP Robin Williams, thanks for all the laughs along the way.

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