The unexpected and tragic suicide of Robin Williams at 63 left the entertainment industry and his fans coping with the loss of a beloved actor whose presence was felt on more than 100 screen projects from 1977 to 2014. The comedian’s legacy carries on in many ways beyond the actor’s troubled life in which he dealt with alcoholism, cocaine addiction and depression. Williams leaves behind a memorable body of work, donations to more than 50 charities and an entire generation of comedians inspired by his work.
The comedian beamed into America’s homes every week with 94 episodes of “Mork & Mindy” from 1978 to 1982. Williams played Mork, an alien who came to Earth from planet Ork in an egg, greeting everyone he meets with the phrase, “Nanu nanu.” Mindy McConnell, played by Pam Dawber, was his earthly companion who tried to teach Mork the ways of humanity.
In Williams’ first feature film role in 1980, he played the titular “Popeye” alongside Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. Paul Dooley played the hamburger-loving Wimpy and Paul L. Smith was Bluto in the comic-cartoon turned into a live action film. “Popeye” was a modest success at $50 million in box office receipts.
The actor’s breakout role came in the 1987 release “Good Morning, Vietnam,” in which Williams played radio disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, sent to Vietnam to cheer up American troops on the radio waves through Armed Forces Radio. Along the way, Cronauer poignantly discovers there is much more to the Vietnam War than just killing Viet Cong soldiers.
“Good Will Hunting” won the comedian an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Sean Maguire, a psychology professor who befriends Will Hunting and teaches the brilliant mathematical mind how to relate normally to human beings. The 1997 film was a breakout piece for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and the movie was the only Oscar win for Williams with four nominations.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” truly showed what Williams could do on the big screen. He played Daniel Hilliard, a newly divorced father trying to win some time with his three children. When the court denies more visitation, Hillard takes matters into his own hands and becomes the perfect nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire. Hilarious hijinks ensue thanks to top-notch performances from Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field. A sequel was in the works until Williams’s untimely death.
In the Disney animated feature “Aladdin,” Williams brought his improvisational style to the voiceover character of Genie, the supporting protagonist to the main character. Without Williams, Aladdin may not have been one of the comedian’s highest-grossing films and the hit of the 1992 holiday season.
Future projects yet to be released include three movies: “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” “Merry Friggin’ Christmas” and the sci-fi/fantasy movie “Absolutely Anything.” Williams reprised his role as Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum” and voiced Dennis the Dog in “Absolutely Anything.” All Williams’ movies stand as part of his legacy.
Inspiration to Comedians
A new generation of comedians inspired by Williams mourned his loss, including Rob Schneider, Wayne Brady, Chris Rock, Conan O’Brien, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Russell Brand, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller and Will Franken. Apatow interned at HBO’s “Comic Relief” just to be near the stand-up star, and Rock remembered watching “Mork & Mindy” as a kid.
After Williams’ death, comedians banded together to hold fundraisers in memory of his passing. Comedy Works in Denver featured a show with proceeds that benefit the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado. Planting Peace’s fundraiser in memory of the comedian goes towards St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, a cause close to Williams’ heart.
Williams was never selfish with his time and money. The comedian never asked for a fee from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital when he visited sick or dying kids in medical centers. The actor frequently appeared on USO tours to entertain troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, the comedian founded Comic Relief.
Other charities that benefited from Williams’ time and money include the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Amnesty International, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, UNICEF, Smile Train and Doctors Without Borders. In all, Williams served as a patron to more than 50 causes. The Reeve Foundation released a statement calling Williams an “unparalleled legacy on screen” and a “good friend” of the Reeve family.
The legacy of the actor, comedian, husband, father and voiceover artist includes much more than his on-screen presence. To honor and carry on the memory of Williams, many celebrities have considered donating to charities regarding alcoholism, addiction, Parkinson’s disease or suicide prevention. Many of the actor’s movies were trending shortly after his death, most notably “What Dreams May Come,” a supernatural, cautionary tale about death, suicide and depression made in 1998. The visually stunning movie starred Williams as a man who tracks down his wife in hell after her suicide. In the end, Williams’s character reunites with his wife and two children in heaven.