Robin Williams: Appreciations of his talent, his work and his life

By Jason Fields
August 12, 2014

File photo of actor Williams arriving at premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" during Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah

Robin Williams, the 63-year-old comedian and Oscar-winning actor who died Monday in an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California was rare. Not just in his talent, his success, or his fame or fortune, but in how universally he was loved by the public.

Since he leapt to the world’s (not just America’s) attention in the late 1970s, he never disappeared from the public eye for long. We all knew that he’d struggled with drugs and depression. At least we could have known if we were interested. His battles were out there, on the record.

Today, though, many writers are choosing to remember him for his work and the joy he brought.

Longtime Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan first met Robin Williams in 1978, while Mork & Mindy was being filmed, but before it hit the air. It was after one of Williams’ standup performances. Turan says he knew he was seeing something special: “He took on different characters with different accents, roamed to all kinds of locations, both physical and metaphysical, made lightning-fast comic connections in time and space that were at once hysterically funny and like nothing I had ever experienced before.”

Tony Hicks of the Contra Costa Times captures the essence of watching one of Williams’ standup performances in a single sentence: “Riffing on words and ideas, leaping with lightning speed from thought to idea to rant to epiphany, there wasn’t a faster brain on the planet.”

Writing of one of Williams’ darkest roles, as a store clerk in One Hour Photo, Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday writes that the actor finally transformed himself from crowd-pleasing comedian to something entirely other: “Williams’s finely calibrated performance was utterly free of the tics and affectations that are so tempting to someone who has come to count on and crave the audience’s love. Rather than seek his fans’ approval with the actorly equivalent of ingratiating winks, Williams was willing to completely inhabit a character who was somehow terrifying, pathetic, creepy and vulnerable all at once.”

Claudia Puig of USA Today writes in a broad overview of his work, that there was a unique thread that can be found in Williams’ zaniest characters and his most chilling: “In every role he took, no matter if it were broadly comic or profoundly menacing, Williams injected his singular persona, perhaps even a little too much of himself than was ‘safe.’ We didn’t just marvel at his performances, we also experienced the seething humanity just visible beneath the role. This is perhaps why his loss is so deeply-felt.”

A.O. Scott, film critic at the New York Times, recalls Williams verbal pyrotechnics at a party during the Cannes Film Festival. Many, in remembering Williams’ ferocious talent, have noted that it was an animated character, the Genie in Aladdin, that best displayed his immense ability and charm. Here is a clip.

 

PHOTO: Actor and comedian Robin Williams arrives at the premiere of the film “World’s Greatest Dad” during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in this January 18, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

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