Monday 29 December 2014

Obituaries: Legendary actor Robin Williams aged 63

While the world has lost a singular 
talent, Robin Williams' suicide mustn't be viewed under the pallor of celebrity mythologising, writes Hilary A White

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

Robin Williams wins his Oscar for Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams wins his Oscar for Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams and Susan Schneider
Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy days
Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam

With the world gathering itself after the loss of someone so ubiquitous, Robin Williams' life and times were read into in huge detail during the week, since his passing at the age of 63. In a bid to come to terms with it, the star's depression, grapples with addiction and a rumoured but undiagnosed bipolar condition were being spoken of almost as an inevitable and Faustian trade-off for supernatural comedic powers.

It was his close personal friends - from Steven Spielberg ("He was a pal and I can't believe he's gone") to Terry Gilliam ("a giant heart, a fireball friend, a wondrous gift from the gods") - who provided the only certainties about the disposition of this scattergun, consuming talent. They attest to someone who was not only conventionally kind, but extraordinarily generous of spirit.

Disguised as a bossy old Russian proctologist, Williams surprised long-time pal Christopher Reeve in hospital with some much-needed chuckles after the Superman's career-ending riding accident. He would ring Spielberg on the set of Schindler's List to deliver the blockbuster maestro with "comic care packages" to help lighten his mood. Kenneth Branagh spoke of an "exceptional" kindness and warmth, while John Travolta had "never known a sweeter, brighter, more considerate person". His old Waiting For Godot co-star Steve Martin used the word "mensch" in 
his description of his dear friend, a Yiddish term that means someone of noble character, to be aspired to and emulated.

On the other side of the cinematic divide were millions upon millions whose funny bones had been tickled, whose imaginations had been fired and whose emotions were quickened by his charisma.

Flowers and momentos left by fans are seen at Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is seen, August 11, 2014, in Hollywood, California.  Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Marin County home earlier today of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Flowers and momentos left by fans are seen at Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is seen, August 11, 2014, in Hollywood, California. Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Marin County home earlier today of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11: Robin Williams' hand and footprint impression is seen at the TCL Chinese Theatre on August 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
A woman grieves besides Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is seen, August 11, 2014, in Hollywood, California. Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Marin County home earlier today of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Flowers and momentos left by fans are seen at Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is seen, August 11, 2014, in Hollywood, California. Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Marin County home earlier today of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - AUGUST 11: A makeshift memorial for Robin Williams is set up in front of a home on August 11, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado. The exterior of the house was used in the opening credits for "Mork & Mindy," the comedy based in Boulder that catapulted Williams' career. Williams, 63, died at his Northern California home Monday in a suspected suicide, according to law enforcement officials. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - AUGUST 11: Local residents take in a makeshift memorial for Robin Williams on August 11, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado. The exterior of the house was used in the opening credits for "Mork & Mindy," the comedy based in Boulder that catapulted Williams' career. Williams, 63, died at his Northern California home Monday in a suspected suicide, according to law enforcement officials. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - AUGUST 11: A makeshift memorial for Robin Williams is set up in front of a home on August 11, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado. The exterior of the house was used in the opening credits for "Mork & Mindy," the comedy based in Boulder that catapulted Williams' career. Williams, 63, died at his Northern California home Monday in a suspected suicide, according to law enforcement officials. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11: Actor Robin Williams' star is seen on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(FILES) A file picture taken on January 31, 1994 in Boulogne-Billancourt, ouside Paris, shows US actor Robin Williams taking part in the broadcast news of French TV channel TF1. Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead at his home in California from suspected suicide, police said on August 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JOEL ROBINE (Photo credit should read JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Since landing in 1978 on the set of Happy Days with the character of Mork, something was immediately special about the 27-year-old. Williams got the part after being invited to sit down in the audition. His response was to stand on his head in the chair. Director Ron Howard, at that time a 
co-star, recalls watching Williams "create" Mork in two hours on set. A spin-off series had to be considered, and the world had Mork and Mindy.

A trademark in whipsmart, spasmodic wit and improv energy was established, one that would lead to a titanic career that seems impossible in today's Hollywood landscape. The key was his versatility. Wacky fare such as Mrs Doubtfire (1993) or The Birdcage (1996) showed a range of comic tempos and tones, but it was when Williams found his dramatic "centre" and brought an element of pathos into his performances that the Oscars and Emmys were drawn helplessly towards him.

His first Oscar nod came with Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), perhaps Williams' most iconic role. It is credited with putting on display for the first time both the zippy speed and precision of his ad-lib as well as his quieter gravity. Every bookish, awkward teenager wished they'd had a teacher like John Keating in Dead Poets Society (1989), his second. A tragi-comic charm infused his third Oscar-nominated role as Parry Sagan in Gilliam's The Fisher King (1991). Williams finally took home an Academy statuette in 1997 with his stately and measured turn as a therapist in Good Will Hunting.

Dark and difficult roles also were no problem to Williams. He drips with latent menace opposite Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia (2002) or as the obsessive photo-counter worker in One Hour Photo, the same year.

1. Cheerleading for the Denver broncos 1980 - sent in by Colin Corrigan.
Academy Award winning actor Robin Williams jokes with reporters as he arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of the film "One Hour Photo" in Beverly Hills, California, August 22, 2002. Reuters
Actor and comedian Robin Williams (L) shares a laugh with actor Billy Crystal on the stage of New York's Radio City Music Hall during HBO's "Comic Relief 8" show
Comedian Robin Williams, wearing a camouflage jacket, entertains a cheering crowd of U.S. Army troops at Baghdad airport
Actor Robin Williams pays tribute to actor Matt Damon during the 24th American Cinematheque Award benefit gala in Beverly Hills, California in this March 27, 2010
Actor and comedian Robin Williams prepares to present the award for best animated feature at the 77th Academy Awards in Hollywood
Robin Williams holds his Oscar after winning Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in "Good Will Hunting" at the 70th Annual Academy Awards
Robin Williams with Zig & Zag on 'The Big Breakfast'
Robin Williams laughs, at a panel for the television series "The Crazy Ones" during the CBS portion of the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California in this July 29
Robin Williams starred in the original Mrs Doubtfire movie
Above and beyond the call: Robin Williams as the inspirational teacher of Matt Damon in the film 'Good Will Hunting'
Robin Williams during a rare live performance of 'An Evening With Robin Williams' presented by The Comedy Garden at the Beacon Theater in New York City Photo: Getty Image
Actor Robin Williams accepts the Favorite Scene Stealing Guest Star Award at the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
US actor Robin Williams (C) and US celebrity Lewis Black (L) laugh in the back stage during the entertaining performance of "Holiday Troop Visit" by US celebrities for Christmas at boardwalk stage of the Kandahar Air Field on December 16, 2010. US Actor Robin Williams, together with Lance Armstrong and Lewis Black attended the event. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
396102 02: Actor and comedian Robin Williams shares a laugh by cell phone with Kathleen Gagliardi, wife of New York City Police Lt. Gary Gagliardi who is working at ground zero Sept. 17, 2001 in New York City. Williams spent time with the rescue workers as well as suprising their wives with phone calls. (Photo by Tom Sperduto/U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Actor Robin Williams (L) and Robert Duvall laugh together upon their arrival at the 70th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles 23 March 1998. Both Williams and Duvall are both nominated for Best Actor awards. AFP PHOTO Hector MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)

And despite the rapid-fire edge and lewdness of his celebrated, on-off stand-up career, it was fare aimed at younger viewers which Williams found himself involved in time after time, voicing blue genies (Disney's imperious Aladdin, 1992), revising Peter Pan with Spielberg (Hook, 1991) or more recently with Night At The Museum (2006). Mind you, he also had a regrettable tendency toward cloying, sentimentalist drivel - step forward Jumanji (1995), Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come (both 1998).

Born in Chicago, Williams' own childhood was one of uprooting and solitude. The overweight son of a Ford executive and former model-turned Episcopalian scientist, his father's work for the car manufacturer led to stints in Detroit. There, he spent much time alone with his imagination in the family's rambling, rented home, entertaining himself while his parents worked and doing his best to fit in in school. His father retired with the family to California, where as a senior at San Francisco's Redwood High School, Williams was voted "the funniest and least likely to succeed".

After a brief dalliance with political science, he was accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School of drama in New York where he excelled, pouring his adolescent love of accents, impressions and gooning into the course and eventually being one of only two graduates (alongside Reeve) to be handpicked to go through into John Houseman's advanced programme.

As the world opened its eyes to the character of Mork in 1978, Williams wed Valerie Velardi, whom he had met while doing barwork in San Francisco. The couple gave birth to Zak in 1983.

Actor Robin Williams (R), star of the film "World's Greatest Dad", escorts Susan Schneider at the film's premiere in Los Angeles, California in this file picture taken August 13, 2009. Oscar-winning actor and comedian Williams was found dead on Monday from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files  (UNITED STATES ENTERTAINMENT - Tags: PROFILE ENTERTAINMENT OBITUARY)
Actor Robin Williams (R), star of the film "World's Greatest Dad", escorts Susan Schneider at the film's premiere in Los Angeles, California
Oscar-winning actor and comedian Williams was found dead on Monday from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files
Actor and comedian Robin Williams (L) shares a laugh with actor Billy Crystal on the stage of New York's Radio City Music Hall during HBO's "Comic Relief 8" show
Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files
Actor Robin Williams (R) jokes with US Postal rider Lance Armstrong before the start of the 15th stage of the Tour de France between Valreas and Villard-de-Lans, in 2004. Reuters
Comedians Robin Williams (R), Billy Crystal (L) and Whoopi Goldberg share a hug on the stage of New York's Radio City Music Hall at the end of HBO's "Comic Relief 8" show, in 1998. Reuters
Actor Robin Williams arrives for the European premiere of 'Happy Feet' at the Empire cinema in London in November 2006. Reuters
Academy Award winning actor Robin Williams jokes with reporters as he arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of the film "One Hour Photo" in Beverly Hills, California, August 22, 2002. Reuters
Actor Robin Williams, star of the new film "One Hour Photo", arrives for the film's premiere at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Reuters
Robin Williams and daughter Zelda Williams at the premiere of their film "House of D" in New York, April 10, 2005. Reuters
Artist Susan Schneider and actor Robin Williams arrive for the Comedy Awards 2012 in New York
Comedian Robin Williams, wearing a camouflage jacket, entertains a cheering crowd of U.S. Army troops at Baghdad airport
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
Actor and comedian Robin Williams prepares to present the award for best animated feature at the 77th Academy Awards in Hollywood
Actor-comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files
Actor Robin Williams (L) poses with his then wife Marsha as they arrive for the premiere of his film " What Dreams May Come" in Beverly Hills
Actor-comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas/Files
File photo dated 1/7/2010 of actor Robin Williams who has been found dead at his home in California, Marin County Sheriff's Office said.
Actor-comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files
Actor/comedian Robin Williams poses backstage with the Cecil B. DeMille award he received at the 62nd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California
Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire
Robin Williams holds his Oscar after winning Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in "Good Will Hunting" at the 70th Annual Academy Awards
Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 from an apparent suicide at his home in Northern California, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files
Robin Williams starred in the original Mrs Doubtfire movie
Robin Williams, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in "Good Will Hunting", arrives with his wife Marsha at the 70th Annual Academy Awards
Actor-comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files
Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files
Actor-comedian Robin Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, Marin County Sheriff's Office said. He was 63. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

Stardom in the late 1970s and early 1980s usually came accompanied by cocaine abuse, and Williams was no different. He hung out with John Belushi in LA the night the Blues Brothers tearaway overdosed on a speedball in 1982, and the event, along with the impending arrival of Zak, led to him turning his back on the drug he described as "God's way of telling you you're making too much money".

In his private life, he kept things interesting for himself. Months after Zak was born, he had an affair with house nanny and eventual second wife Marsha Garces, who he walked up the aisle in 1989 while she was carrying his daughter Zelda. Cody arrived two years later before his marriage to Garces (who took production credits in Mrs Doubtfire, Patch Adams and Jakob The Liar) disintegrated in 2008.

Susan Schneider, a graphic designer, entered Williams's life shortly before he underwent heart surgery in 2009. They tied the knot in 2011 after she had reportedly helped nurse Williams back to health. Schneider would be the last to see Williams alive, the night before his body was discovered at their home in Tiburon, California by his personal assistant at 11.45am on Monday.

The statement from Schneider read: "This morning, 
I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions".

There were rumours of mounting financial worries. Details emerged of lapsed sobriety from alcohol over the years and the fact that he had checked himself back into rehab last month for a "fine tune" amid the stresses of a heavy workload (he will feature in a handful of upcoming releases in the coming months). He had recently become severely depressed, some said, because of the cancellation of his latest TV show, The Crazy Ones. Then it was revealed he was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.

And then there was the horrid and wholly irresponsible press conference on Tuesday by Marin County's assistant chief coroner that detailed how he had been found by emergency services.

Wicklow comedian Dara O'Briain responded with a call to defy the "dumb, pat cliche" about the depressive comic and the tears of a clown myth, and rightly so.

Theories were flung about the place. "He was manic, so of course he had to be depressive," people concluded. "He craved acceptance, like so many other showbiz casualties," or "he spent too much energy catering to the humours of others and not enough on his own."

Williams indeed had an intensity about him. He would riff for as long as it took to keep people laughing because he, understandably, liked the feeling. He had demons -who doesn't? And yes, he 
was prodigally brilliant at a craft that could touch millions in one fell swoop.

But it does a disservice to the legions of people who suffer depression or are at risk of suicide to say that there was anything pre-ordained or glamorous about a gifted, brilliant man taking his own life.

The only thing that can be taken for sure from the suicide of the 63-year-old is that depression doesn't care what you do for a living, how much you earn, how beautiful your children are, or how much the world cherishes and adores you for making them bellylaugh and cry and wonder over 40 years.

And how he was adored.

Sunday Independent

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment