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On Tuesday, July 21, fans celebrated legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams on what would have been his 69th birthday. Williams, notable for his esteemed roles in hit movies such as Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire, had a successful career that included a captivating combination of comedy and drama. Known for not only his fast-paced, witty and unpredictable performances but also acclaimed dramatic works, Williams utilized this duality to shape a remarkable career that spanned several decades and left a resounding impact on generations to come.
Beginning of Robin Williams’ career
In the many years leading up to his death in 2014, Williams achieved great success following his early life studying acting at the Juilliard School, quickly rising up the ranks as stand-up comedy star as a product of his biting wit and animated humor.
Dave Itzkoff, who penned the best-seller biography Robin, eloquently discussed the nuances of Williams’ stand-up performances in the New York Times obituary he authored. “Onstage he was known for ricochet riffs on politics, social issues and cultural matters both high and low; tales of drug and alcohol abuse; lewd commentaries on relations between the sexes; and lightning-like improvisations on anything an audience member might toss at him,” he wrote. “His gigs were always rife with frenetic, spot-on impersonations that included Hollywood stars, presidents, princes, prime ministers, popes and anonymous citizens of the world. His irreverence was legendary and uncurtailable.”
Williams later broke out into the mainstream television scene in the ABC sitcom, Mork and Mindy, a spin-off of a highly successful episode of Happy Days, that starred Williams in the role of Mork, an alien who comes to Earth from the planet Ork. Following several minor TV appearances, the role preceded the resulting film career that would drive him to increased fame, showcasing his improvisational genius as well as the ability to take on more serious work.
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Robin Williams’ Infamous roles
1980’s Popeye brought Williams his big-screen debut in the eponymous role, with successful film roles in The World According to Garp (1982) as well as in Moscow on the Hudson (1984) arriving shortly after. Williams had a breakthrough performance in the 1987 film Good Morning Vietnam, playing an unscripted and irreverent radio D.J. named Adrian Cronauer, which resulted in his first Academy Award nomination. Succeeding this nomination, he received another for Dead Poets Society two years later for his acclaimed role as John Keating, the unconventional yet inspirational English teacher and mentor at a private school, famously remembered for his exclamation to “Carpe diem.”
His role in The Fisher King (1991) earned him yet another nomination for his portrayal of a homeless man in the redemptive drama. Williams’ range was not limited to these more adult-oriented films, however, as he went on to star in Hook in 1991 as an adult Peter Pan, infamously voiced the exuberant genie in 1992’s Disney’s animated film Aladdin, and possessed leading roles in the hilarious Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995) and Flubber (1997). Good Will Hunting marked his first well-deserved Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in 1998, for his role as a therapist working with Matt Damon’s troubled character, and quickly became a renowned film that greatly impacted audiences.
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As a result of his endless charismatic performances as well as outspokenness about his own personal struggles with addiction, Robin Williams was dubbed a “national treasure” by many in the entertainment industry as well as people everywhere, with thousands reflecting on his impact and influence after his death in 2014.
In a statement following the announcement of Williams’ death, President Obama recognized his incomparable talent, noting, “He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”
Susan Schneider, Williams’ wife, additionally released a statement after his passing that acknowledged the legacy that he left behind in the form of outpouring support of friends and fans, which was once more expressed on the recent celebration of his birthday. “Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched,” she said back in 2014. “His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.”
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Williams’ daughter Zelda honored her late father on his birthday this past week by donating money to homeless shelters. “Today would’ve been Dad’s 69th birthday, so to honor him (& that glorious number), I will be donating $69.69 to as many local homeless shelters as I can,” Williams said on Twitter. “Join me if you like, but regardless, know I am wishing you all at least one hearty, immature belly laugh on Dad today.” The donations spanned several organizations in the San Francisco and Los Angeles area and were given as means of remembering Williams’ passion for helping the homeless, as he dedicated much of his life “to help them, to uplift them, to have them be treated with dignity instead of disdain,” as Zelda shared in her post.
The career of Robin Williams was a remarkable tour de force of irreplaceable wit, improvisation, and an honest expression of personal struggles and growth. His energy and nuanced performances remain unmatched and continue to contribute a lifetime of laughter to those who dedicatedly viewed and appreciated his work and still celebrate him today.
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