Cook Library Cinema Club: Robin Williams
We were sad to hear of the tragic passing of Robin Williams this week at the age of 63. To say that Williams possessed an incredible range and depth to his talent is an understatement that borders on the absurd. The insanely talented comic was a Julliard-trained actor as well, and many of his most memorable movie roles allowed him to flex his formidable skills as a dramatic actor. Though we may never know the extent to which he struggled with personal demons over the years, what is clear is that he left us with a treasure chest full of wonderful performances by which to remember him.
Williams began his professional career as a stand-up comic in California in the 1970's, ultimately hitting it big in his breakout role as the alien Mork from the planet Ork in the television sitcom Mork and Mindy. Feature film offers soon followed. Appearing in over 50 films during his long career, Williams won an Oscar for his supporting performance as a sympathetic analyst in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, opposite Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. As a testament to his versatility, Williams ultimately racked up three more Academy Award nominations over the years for his leading roles in Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, and Dead Poet's Society.
Whether we'll most remember his outstanding dramatic roles, his outrageously funny stand-up routines and appearances on late night television programs, or his memorable comic performances in film favorites such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, one thing is certain: we can be thankful that he shared his vast array of talents with us for so many years.
New biographies of Williams will no doubt hit bookshelves in the months ahead, but Andy Dougan's 1998 volume titled Robin Williams: A Biography does a nice job of outlining Williams' early life and career, including his breakout successes in comedy clubs, television, and Hollywood. For a truly fascinating glimpse into what made the actor tick, check out his 2001 appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio, which can be viewed in parts on youtube.
A fine sampling of Williams' best work is available on DVD and CD at the library. A few of our favorites among his many projects are highlighted below:
Williams' comic genius can be heard loud and clear in two recent comedy recordings. Weapons of Self Destruction is an audio recording of his 2010 HBO comedy special, and Live 2002 is a two-disc recording which contains much of the material that Williams performed in his popular one-man show Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.
Good Morning Vietnam: Williams earned his first Oscar nomination for his lead role in this 1987 film. In a performance that is both hilarious and poignant, Williams plays Disc Jockey Adrian Cronauer, whose unorthodox broadcasts shake things up when he is assigned to the U.S. Armed Services Radio station in Saigon in 1965.
The Birdcage (1996): Williams shines in his role as a gay Miami nightclub owner who is forced to play it straight and ask his drag-queen partner (Nathan Lane) to hide out when Williams' son invites his prospective and highly conservative in-laws and finacee to a "meet-the-parents" dinner party. Mike Nichols and Elaine May wrote and directed this raucous comedy, which is based on the French play and Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles.
Dead Poet's Society (1986): The lives of students at an elite prep school in Vermont are forever changed by an eccentric English teacher and his determination to inspire them through his love of poetry. Williams scored another Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his dramatic performance in the film. You'll spot Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Josh Charles (The Good Wife) among the young actors playing the schoolboys.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993): Sally Field also stars in the hit comedy that features Williams in one of his most memorable comic roles as a divorced dad who disguises himself as an English nanny in a desperate attempt to spend time with his kids.
Coming Friday: A tribute to legendary actress Lauren Bacall