Robin Williams 1951-2014
by Jason Koenigsberg
Comedy legend and Hollywood icon Robin Williams was found dead today in his home from an apparent suicide. Once again a great comedic talent with a larger than life personality has succumbed to his own tragic inner demons. His personal life was chronicled with struggles from alcohol, drugs and depression. Here at Pan and Slam when losing such a beloved figure our goal is to pay tribute to the life and accomplishments of the person we loved so dearly and lost too suddenly. Robin Williams was a phenomenal stand-up comedian with such exuberant energy he could make you smile even with the simplest movements or cheer you up when you did not think you had the energy to smile. What made Robin Williams such a remarkable talent was that unlike many other comedians that act in movies, he crossed over into acting so successfully because he was an immensely talented actor as well. Few comedians have ever made that transition as successfully and easily as Williams.
Four times he was nominated for an Academy Award, winning on his fourth and what would be his final nomination. He was able to star in not only comedies but science fiction (A.I. Artificial Intelligence), horror (One Hour Photo), action-adventure films (Hook, Jumanji), voice over work (Aladdin), Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet) and most notably his dramatic work which earned him most of his accolades, awards and he proved he deserved to share the screen with the likes of some of the greatest actors of all time like Robert DeNiro in Awakenings, Gene Hackman in The Birdcage and Al Pacino in Insomnia.
His body of work will be remembered for years to come. Here are the 5 best performances of Robin Williams:
Good Will Hunting directed by Gus Van Sant (1997)
The film that Robin Williams finally took home the Oscar for and there is no doubt about it, he deserved it. Williams helped elevate Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s story about a genius janitor with an abusive past to being one of the best movies of the 1990’s. This was one of his best dramatic performances and he really commanded the screen with every moment he was on screen as a great surrogate father figure. It was his most emotional performance with scenes dealing with his characters abusive childhood and conveying that emotion to Matt Damon’s title character. Rather than show a great heart-wrenching scene from a film everyone is probably familiar with, here is Robin Williams’ acceptance speech from the 1998 Academy Awards honoring him for what we now know was the crowning achievement of his professional career. (check out Burt Reynolds’ sore loser applause, the hug from his good friend Billy Crystal, and his Groucho Marx walk off the stage).
Mrs. Doubtfire directed by Chris Columbus (1993)
Go ahead, say what you want about this Chris Columbus hit comedy, this was Robin Williams’ best comedic performance and after all, he was a comedian first and foremost. This performance melded his comedic talents with his powerful acting ability better than any of his other works. He was hilariously funny when he had to be, and his all the right notes dramatically when the script called for it. A film that I have always treasured and one that will no doubt go down in history as one of his best.
One Hour Photo directed by Mark Romanek (2002)
2002 was one of the best years of Robin Williams’ career. That summer he had hist first solo stand-up special on HBO in nearly twenty years and he delivered all the laughs with timely jokes about Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and the Taliban. But it was even more memorable for his film roles. That year marked Robin Williams’ “Dark Trilogy”. Three films that were very dark and edgy and all released in the same year. The first was a Death to Smoochy, a satirical look at the dark side of children’s television shows where Williams starred as Rainbow Randolph who was spurned and replaced by another children’s television star Smoochy the Rhino which was purple just like Barney and played by Edward Norton. A few months later he was in Christopher Nolan’s film Insomnia where Williams was the villain trying to outwit Academy Award winners Al Pacino and Hilary Swank as they searched for a murderer in Alaska. But the real highlight for Williams that year was his terrifying turn in Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo. It was a Hitchcockian tale of the mundane suburban life, loneliness, family and obsession. The only time Robin Williams ever truly transformed himself in a role where he was practically unrecognizable. This is one of the best examples of what a great versatile actor he was.
The Fisher King directed by Terry Gilliam (1991)
A comic fantasy for adults about searching for the Holy Grail in Manhattan. Terry Gilliam directed Williams to his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He plays a homeless man who helps Jeff Bridges search for the grail as well as the meaning of his life after he went through a great personal and professional tragedy as a radio disc jockey. He bares it all in a very funny, touching and heartfelt performance. Check out this scene where Jeff Bridges cleans up his homeless friend and helps him take out a woman he has a crush on.
Dead Poets Society directed by Peter Weir (1989)
Peter Weir’s film is now regarded as a modern classic but it was Robin Williams’ performance as an English teacher at a private school that made this film work as wonderfully as it did. “Oh Captain, My Captain”, many films have tried to emulate this story of an inspiring teacher motivating his students. The romantic ideas are on display as well as the tragic side of following your dreams. It is idealist but sometimes we all need a reminder to strive for the ideal. This film and his performance will continue to be remembered for years to come. Watch the scene below as a loving tribute to Williams and the character that helped inspire all of us a little bit to follow our heart and go against authority.
I also cherished Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Dead Again (1991), Being Human (1994), and World’s Greatest Dad (2009) which I consider his last great performance in a motion picture and it was another dark comedy that mixed dramatic and humorous elements.
We are lucky we have so many great memories from him captured on camera. One last moment to make us laugh and remember why we loved Robin Williams so much and he will be a talent that we treasure in our hearts and will miss for years to come.