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Remembering Robin Williams

By: Sharp Staff|August 13, 2014

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Aladdin (1992)

Williams’s inimitable voice is what made Aladdin a must see for kids and adults alike. With impressions that no child would ever pick up on (70’s-style Jack Nicholson and Ed Sullivan for example) Williams provided the Disney editors with hours upon hours of improvised vocal work. In fact, so much of the movie was off-script because of him that the movie was denied a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.

The Birdcage (1996)

Initially offered the role ultimately filled by Nathan Lane, Williams wanted a change from ‘flamboyant’ characters and asked to play Armand, a gay nightclub owner whose partner (Lane) is a drag star. After running lines from at least one page of script for each scene, Williams and Lane were free to improvise, much of which made it into the final, fantastic film.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

As a 1950’s teacher who plays father-figure to a group of boys whose own fathers are neglectful or demanding, Williams was inspirational. Williams guides his students through the life lessons of poetry and following their dreams. The phrase he speaks to them repeatedly, carpe diem or seize the day, has itself reached cult status along with the film and referring to people as ‘Oh Captain, my Captain.’

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

Proof that Williams can inject a whole lot of humour into a tragic topic, his character is brought in as a radio DJ at the height of the Vietnam War. Fans saw shades of his motor mouth stand up skills in the performance which is seen as his breakout role thanks to the Oscar nomination he received for it – his first. The ability Williams has to make people laugh through their pain quickly became a calling card.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

In his only Oscar-winning role, Williams played psychiatrist Sean Maguire who counsels Matt Damon’s character through his heart ache. Even though this was a more subdued, bearded Williams than viewers had grown used to, his usual brand of improvisation was still ever present. Both the story of his character’s ‘farting wife’ and his last line spoken (“Son of a bitch, he stole my line.”) were ad-libbed by Williams.

Hook (1991)

Another film that played on his affinity for man-child roles, Hook featured Williams as the ultimate ‘boy who won’t grow up’ Peter Pan. Now a full-grown man who travels back to Neverland to fight Captain Hook for his kids, Pan takes a little bit to remember his past and fully meld back in with the Lost Boys. But we all knew that Williams was a perfect fit for boyish games, food fights and crowing.

Insomnia (2002)

One of the most impressive feats Williams achieved in his acting career was the ability to hide his naturally jovial energy. In Insomnia, he played a murdering foil to Al Pacino’s detective. Throughout the film, his tormenting phone calls to Pacino were of course recorded by Williams but lacked any of the warmth that seemed uncontrollable in his other projects or standup. Seeing Williams this maniacal (but in the sociopathic murdering sense) was just plain eerie – and brilliant.

Jack (1996)

Once more playing a man-child, Williams starred as the title character, a boy with an unusual disorder that makes him age four times as fast as everyone else. He looks like a 40-year-old man by the time he enters the fifth grade. The film was heartwarming as well as heartbreaking all thanks to the gentle, innocent delivery from Williams as a child with no control over the reason why all his peers call him a freak.

Jumanji (1995)

A number of Williams’s films portray him as The Boy Who Won’t Grow Up but Jumanji took that archetype and turned it on its head with The Boy Who Was Forced to Grow Up Because He’s Stuck in a Horrifying Board Game Jungle. As Allen Parrish, Williams is sucked into Jumanji as a child and returns as a man who is still fighting the one thing he truly fears: his father. Or his father in the form of a murderous hunter.

Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)

On his first foray into television, Williams played an alien who landed on earth and befriended a woman named Mindy who became his roommate. The show was a spinoff of Happy Days (regardless of the fact that Days was set in the 1950s and Mork lived in then present-day 1978) after the unknown Williams impressed producer Garry Marshall. At the audition, Marshall instructed Williams to take a seat and Williams sat his head on a chair. “The only alien who auditioned for the role,” as Marshall recalled.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

After learning to speak Russian (on a serious time crunch) for his portrayal of a soviet saxophonist defecting to New York City, Williams earned rave reviews for its authenticity. The touching film showcased a more-toned-down Williams who only wanted to express himself through his chosen art form: the saxophone.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Anyone who watched this film as a child still considers it a heart-warming movie. Williams plays a dad who’s immature (naturally) and isn’t trusted by his ex-wife to watch their children. What’s a man to do? Dress like a kindly old lady with a prosthetic face and an English accent, of course. Love for the movie is still so strong that Williams was reportedly in talks with the film’s writer to begin production on a sequel.

Patch Adams (1998)

Another example of using humour through heartache, this film saw Williams as a med student who treats his patients (illegally since he is still unlicensed) using humour at a clinic he opens. He is expelled twice but eventually is allowed to continue his practice. During filming, Williams and the cast worked closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and even invited children undergoing cancer treatment to appear with William in scenes at the pediatric ward.

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