Robin Williams died yesterday with four films still in the works, having left his fans dozens of movies and with four Oscar nominations, numerous Golden Globe awards and nominations, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Will Hunting. His career began on television in 1978 with the role of the goofy alien in Mork & Mindy, where he coined such classic words as “nanoo, nanoo,” and “shazbot!”
The 63-year-old actor never could stick to a script. During Mork & Mindy tapings producers quit trying to make him follow his lines, and later left gaps in the script saying “Mork can go off here” to allow improvisation places for Williams. In 1992’s Aladdin, where he dubbed the voice of the genie, the actor ad-libbed so much that the movie could not be considered for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, although it did earn the voice of Genie a special Golden Globe award. This film was a breakthrough for major stars lending their voices to animated films, of which Williams did six, including two Aladdin features, Happy Feet and Robots.
Williams moved to the big screen in his first movie starring role in the 1980 film Popeye, and the 1982 classic The World According to Garp, but it was Good Morning Vietnam that earned him his first Oscar nomination and rocketed him to fame.
The World According to Garp (1982): This film was made right after the cancellation of Mork & Mindy, and it introduced Williams in his first dramatic role, the all-too-human title character, a believably confused everyman who is seen aging from high schooler to troubled family man.
Good Morning Vietnam (1987): Golden Globe award Best Actor, nominated for Oscar. The beginning of the golden period in Williams film career. Most of the broadcast scenes from Williams character, Vietnam disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, were improvised. The film that gave him his first Oscar nomination was a surprise to many fans who still considered him a sitcom funny man.
Dead Poet’s Society (1989): Golden Globe award Best Actor. As teacher John Keating, Williams played mentor to students needing inspiration in a preppy school for boys, demanding students stand on their desks and seize the day. “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,” was one of his teachings to his young students.
Awakenings (1990): Another serious role for Williams, who plays a doctor who awakens catatonic patients with a new drug.
The Fisher King (1991): Golden Globe award Best Actor, nominated for Oscar. Williams played the homeless, mentally ill Henry Sagan, expressing lunatic mock-heroism and exploring the outer reaches of sanity. He was a “knight on a special quest.”
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993): Golden Globe award best actor. In the second highest-grossing movie of 1993, Williams appeared as a cross-dressing British nanny and newly divorced father, who in the classic scene was required to swap characters, makeup and accents while in a restaurant bathroom as he tried to be two characters at the same time. The movie won an Oscar for Best Makeup, but it was Williams who made both characters believable. “My first day as a woman and I’m getting hot flashes.”
The Birdcage (1996): Williams plays the straight man to cross-dressing Nathan Lane with gentle good humor. At one point he tries to teach Lane how to act straight and smear mustard “like a man.”
Good Will Hunting (1997): Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, nominated for Golden Globe. An emotional performance as troubled genius Matt Damon’s shrewdly insightful therapist, perhaps particularly poignant looking at Williams later life and premature death. “You have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”
Patch Adams (1998): Golden Globe Best Actor nomination. As a medical student who treated children with humor and compassion, Williams character helped young patients by making them laugh. He continued to comfort sick patients after the cameras quit rolling, channeling his Patch Adams character to help make sick children’s lives better, even chartering a jet to visit a young girl whose dying wish was to see him. One parent described Williams as a “comedic Mother Theresa.”
The memorable quote from Good Morning Vietnam was, aptly “Gooooooooood morning Vietnam!” And now the world is saying goodbye, or perhaps “nanoo, nanoo,” to the comedic, serious genius of Robin Williams.
By Beth A. Balen