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Photo: Robin Williams
What else is there to say at this point about Robin Williams? If you’re reading this, you most likely know who he is. A critically acclaimed stand-up comedian and actor who’s a master of impressions and probably one of the funniest people to ever live, Robin Williams is truly one of the greats. Throughout his 38-year career, he made people laugh, cry, and laugh enough to make them cry, and his legacy is permanently etched into Hollywood and stand-up comedy. As someone who has a deep love for this man and his work, let’s dive into some of the film roles and other performances that defined Robin Williams’s legendary status and helped him earn the respect and recognition he has today.
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Robin Williams Performances:
‘Mork and Mindy’ (1978-1982)
‘Mork and Mindy’ is a spin-off of the popular sitcom ‘Happy Days’ and became the star vehicle that brought Williams to instant fame. Here, he portrayed Mork, an alien from the planet Ork, who came to Earth to study the behavior of humans. After meeting a 21-year-old girl named Mindy (played by Pam Dawber), who offers to let him live in her attic, he decides to stay on the planet and try to fit in with Earth culture.
Mork first appeared in the ‘Happy Days’ episode “My Favorite Orkan,” and was only meant to appear for just that episode. After filming the episode and greatly impressing the cast and studio executives with his incredible comedic timing, he was signed to a contract only four days later. ‘Mork and Mindy’ ended up becoming Williams’ breakout role, building up his reputation and making him a star worth looking out for. His offbeat approach to the character of Mork and his quips made him a hilarious on-screen presence, one that would define his type of comedy for years to come.
Remembering Robin Williams: A Tribute to a True Hollywood Legend
‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ (1987)
This is the movie that broke Robin Williams fully past the threshold and into Hollywood. ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ is a war comedy film about a man named Adrian Cronauer, who became a radio DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service during the Vietnam War. His unconventional type of comedy (which was just Williams improvising, as per usual) becomes a hit with the U.S. soldiers, despite some of the more seasoned generals disliking him and the humor he brings. Loosely based on the experiences of the real-life Adrian Cronauer, the film focuses on the brutal nature of war and the impact that comedy can have on others.
‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ was seen as a great film that helped launch Williams to the next level. Despite being in movies before this (for example, the live-action ‘Popeye’ movie in 1980), he finally gained higher recognition for his portrayal here. The film proved to be a great blend of war drama and comedy, and showed that ‘M*A*S*H’ wasn’t the only film that could find humor in a war setting. His comedic segments inside the radio booth are still hilarious to this day and serve as a showcase of the quick-witted talent that Williams possesses. This type of greatness isn’t something you see often, and ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ was an example.
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‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
‘Dead Poets Society’ was a huge turning point in Robin Williams’ career, for the fact alone that it proved his worth as a dramatic actor as well as a comedic one. The movie, which had a great bit of humor and dramatic weight, let him flex both of these muscles and show just how good of an actor this man was. He played the role of John Keating, the new English teacher at an all-male prep school, where his quick wit and wisdom resonates with many of the students in his class. He especially resonates with Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) and his friends, who all decide to resurrect Keating’s now-defunct Dead Poet’s Society in secrecy. Together, through Keating and the club, the boys learn to express themselves as individuals and find their own voice in the world.
This movie has always been a personal favorite of mine, and should be for any Robin Williams fan out there. His comedy is much more subdued here than usual, and Williams shows off his incredible acting chops here. ‘Dead Poets Society’ is a film that inspires its audience to think outside the box and look at life a little differently, and for that, I’ve always respected it. Plus, you even get to see Ethan Hawke’s breakthrough performance that made him famous. For poetry fans and those who like to see Williams take on dramatic roles, it’s a great watch. As recited throughout the film, “O Captain! My Captain!”
As part of the Disney Renaissance of films in the 80s and 90s, ‘Aladdin’ is a film that stands out among the rest purely due to Robin Williams’ performance. The film follows the titular character finding a magic genie and using it to win over the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Jasmine. Williams himself voiced the genie in what became one of his most iconic roles and one of the most notable Disney characters ever. This big, blue mystical being stole the show every time he was on screen, using Williams’ fast-talking, hyperactive delivery to bring a dose of humor to any scene. Williams brought it all out for this role, doing impressions of famous people and properties, along with bringing much-needed comic relief to the film.
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After the release of ‘Aladdin’ and in the years after, critics and fans have almost unanimously seen Williams’ role as the Genie to be his most memorable performance. There’s just something so different that he brings to the character, and his performance alone elevates the movie to a completely new level. Despite getting into monetary and marketing disputes with Disney after the film released, Williams later went back and voiced the Genie again in ‘Aladdin: King of the Thieves.’ It’s a legendary Disney role that can never be forgotten.
‘Good Will Hunting’ (1997)
While the Genie in ‘Aladdin’ may have been Williams’ most iconic role, his role in ‘Good Will Hunting’ may be his best. It’s a top-notch performance in a top-notch movie, and it’s the greatest dramatic acting Robin Williams has ever given in his career. ‘Good Will Hunting’ tells the story of Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon in his star-turning role), a genius who mops the floors at MIT. His intellect is soon discovered by a professor and he begins studying at the university, but due to mishaps with the law, is also required to go to court-mandated therapy, where he begins sessions with Dr. Sean Maguire (Williams). With Maguire’s help, Will begins to evaluate his relationships as well as understand what he really wants out of life.
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An all-time classic film that put Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on the map in Hollywood, a lot of this film’s dramatic weight comes from Williams himself, who completely ditches his comedy roots here. He brings out the best in Damon in their scenes together, and his role as the introspective, emotionally-intelligent therapist is one that deserves unanimous praise. Nobody else could play Dr. Maguire as Robin Williams did, and that’s what made ‘Good Will Hunting’ as incredible of a film as it is today. I mean, who can watch the “It’s not your fault” scene and not get misty-eyed? Despite Williams’ many varied and incredible roles throughout a multitude of films, ‘Good Will Hunting’ will always be his crown jewel in terms of acting performance.
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.