He was in our laugh consciousness since 1977 with his first “Happy Days” appearance. The plot of the show was as farfetched as Fonzie jumping sharks, yet Robin Williams made it seemed natural and hilarious. Then he became an alienatic dork on his own show named after his character Mork. And though the world is full of one hit wonders in TV, film and music, Williams was just getting warmed up.
The world according to Williams included stunning improvs, altruistic ventures and a few epic turns of masterful performances. “Mrs. Doubtfire” remains the premiere comedic performance of all film’s history. Ask anyone. Old and young everyone has seen this movie. And now its star has flamed out.
From physical comedy to heart wrenching portrayals, Williams’ endless enthusiasm lifted hearts and made us chuckle. His appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” were pure madness and his touching turn on “Dead Poets Society” made all of us envy his talent. When he played “Patch Adams” wasn’t he just playing himself?
How does the death of a comedic turned dramatic actor make for a topic in a supposedly music column? Well listen to one of Williams’ five Grammy winning albums, including the epic debut “Reality…What a Concept,” and you’ll realize he was a master of the recorded word as well. He also appears in Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” video- a rather poignant statement on his career now knowing the internal demons he faced. He also of course was memorable playing a radio DJ in “Good Morning Vietnam”- How cool is that? So yes its ok I spend a few column inches on the discussion of his genius.
To me, Williams was the encapsulation of a generation of misfits. Practically all of his roles were of persons out of place and in such the humor was not lost. From the eccentric Garp to a neurotic drag queen in “The Birdcage,” Williams made these roles somehow coherent with a misaligned narrative. The premise of these movies should have sunk them, but Williams touched them with grace and insight to make us love the misbegotten, the broken piece. He did quirkiness better than anyone.
Before “Star Wars” Williams made aliens cool, English teachers admirable and cross-dressing an art. These were risks played and executed with aplomb. That is genius. We take for granted the smooth presentation of all the oft kilter premises because Williams touched us with a inward presence that spoke to the essence that makes all of slightly different, slightly weird, slightly out of place. Williams made us comfortable in our skins. He was music.
His career was fortunately recognized by his peers as well. Taking home an Oscar, plus multiple Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards to go along with the numerous Grammys. Somehow the square peg found a way to fit or did his epic candor and “legalized insanity” just force us to change the shape of the hole?
In his 1996 starring role in “Jack,” the tale once again of an out of place child who ages four times faster than normal, Williams give what now comes off as a haunting commencement speech. It’s touching and essentially humor free. In admitting that none of us have very long on earth, Williams offers sage advice “Make your lives spectacular. I know I did.” Indeed he did.