Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Robin Williams dies: Oscar-winning performer and comic genius with equal ability to wring tears from his audience

Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams starred in Mrs Doubtfire, playing a soon-to-be-divorced father who cross-dresses as a nanny to spend more time with his children
Inspiring figure: Robin Williams in Dead Poets' Society
Robin Williams has been found dead at his home in California.

There are actors who can make you laugh, and there are comedians who can make you cry. Robin Williams, an Oscar-winning performer and preternaturally gifted comic, was one of the rare few who can do both in the span of a single scene.

He may have made his name as Mork, the eccentric alien of the late ‘70s sitcom Mork and Mindy, but it was with his remarkable 1987 performance in Good Morning, Vietnam that Williams first demonstrated his considerable dramatic chops, earning an Oscar nomination as a charismatic but conflicted Armed Forces Radio DJ in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War. Amazingly, he improvised many of the film’s fast, funny and furious radio monologues.

He earned two more Best Actor nominations over the next four years, for Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Fisher King (1991), in which he played a delusional homeless man who, poignantly, rescues Jeff Bridges’ depressed radio shock-jock from suicide. By then, away from the big screen, Williams was enjoying a thriving second career as a stand-up comedian, a forum across which his wild persona could roam without the fencing constraints of studio filmmaking.

He could have stolen any scene he chose, but he was generous, too, in yielding the spotlight to other actors – particularly when playing a mentor to young, up-and-coming stars such as Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society or Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (1997), for which Williams finally won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Indeed, the widowed therapist Sean Maguire was a defining role: funny, wise and whip-smart; damaged yet deeply empathetic.

Williams was also the first major star to make a virtue of voicing an animated character, delivering a classic comic turn as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) – without whom there might never have been a Buzz Lightyear, let alone Eddie Murphy’s “Donkey” from Shrek. The fantasy world of animation gave him free rein to indulge his genius for impressions, accents and funny voices, to unforgettable effect.

A naturally likeable presence, Williams nonetheless developed a distinctive side-line in smiling villains, most notably in two psychological thrillers from 2002: One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia.

As his career lengthened into middle age, he appeared in more turkeys than triumphs, but there remained glimmers of his peculiar brilliance in, for example, the little-seen 2006 black comedy Man of the Year; in a brief guest appearance in Louis CK’s offbeat sitcom, Louie; and in his presidential performances as a serious Eisenhower in The Butler (2013) and a silly Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies. He remained to the end a breathlessly funny chat-show guest, and earned acclaim for his first and only Broadway stage performance as recently as 2011, in the play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

Behind his more emotive roles – Maguire in Good Will Hunting, the troubled English teacher of Dead Poets Society, even the desperate, divorced, cross-dressing father of Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – a viewer could discern inklings of what may now be interpreted as Williams’ own deep and authentic pain. It is to his lasting credit that he used it to create such indelible characters.

Robin Williams died at the age of 63
Robin Williams died at the age of 63
Na-Nu Na-Nu: Robin Williams as Mork and co-star Pam Dawber as Mindy McConnel
Robin Williams was found dead at his home in California
File photo dated 15/5/1997 of Robin Williams, Annabella Sciora and Cuba Gooding Jr publicise their new film "What Dreams May Come", at the 50th Cannes Film Festival.
Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams at Andre Agassi's Grand Slam for Children at MGM Grand Garden Arena on October 2, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bob Brye/Las Vegas News Bureau via Getty Images)
Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire
Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Robin Williams
Robin Williams starred in the original Mrs Doubtfire movie
Robin Williams in Jumanji (1995)
Actor Robin Williams appears onstage during MTV's Total Request Live at the MTV Times Square Studios on April 27, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Robin Williams jokes around during Google co-founder Larry Page's keynote address at the International Consumer Electronics Show January 6, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Zelda Williams and Robin Williams backstage during the 33rd Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 9, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for PCA)
Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she wanted co-star Robin Williams to adopt her
Actor Robin Williams presents the Pioneer Award onstage during the 6th annual "TV Land Awards" held at Barker Hangar on June 8, 2008 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TV Land)
Robin Williams performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 25, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bob Brye/Las Vegas News Bureau via Getty Images)
Robin Williams speaks during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA)
Actor Robin Williams arrives at the premiere of Magnolia Pictures' "World's Greatest Dad" at The Landmark Theater on August 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Actor Robin Williams accepts the Favorite Scene Stealing Guest Star award during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA)
Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Caulfield/Getty Images for PCA)
Actor Robin Williams and Susan Schneider arrive at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Old Dogs" held at the El Capitan Theatre on November 9, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Caulfield/Getty Images for PCA)
Actor Robin Williams attends the Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet Two" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on November 13, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Robin Williams joked about undergoing heart surgery
Robin Williams said he enjoyed working with the cast of Happy Feet Two in Australia
Robin Williams says Happy Feet 2 is as good as, if not better than, the original
Susan Schneider and comedian Robin Williams attend The Comedy Awards 2012 at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 28, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Comedian Robin Williams accepts an award onstage at The Comedy Awards 2012 at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 28, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Robin Williams attends CBS 2013 Upfront Presentation at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 15, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
Robin Williams in Boulevard (Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival)
Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choicre Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Caulfield/Getty Images for PCA)
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