Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shazbot

Robin Williams is dead.  Definitely a shock. He was suffering from depression and as I write this it seems to be a suicide, though we'll know more later.  What we do know is he was one of the funniest, fastest comedian of his generation, and also a great actor.

Literally yesterday I was reading something I'd written about Williams--a negative thing about Bicentennial Man, actually--but even then I was thinking while he made his share of stinkers, he was a unique talent.

Williams became a star overnight. He'd gone to Juilliard and done some work in TV when Happy Days producer Garry Marshall heard about this funny guy who could do anything. He hired him to appear as Mork, an alien who'd be a formidable opponent to resident hero Fonzie.  They had a face-off in a 1978 episode and though Fonzie won, Mork got his own series later that year.

It was a smash hit and this previously unknown actor was suddenly appearing on magazine covers (back when people read magazines).  He was the whole show--Mork, who knew nothing of Earth, was a license for the frenetic Williams to do any and all sorts of jokes.  What some noticed, in addition, was an actor with technique and a surprising amount of depth.

The show changed time slots and retooled and soon fell out of the top ten, but Williams was no flash in the pan.  He used his fame to get starring roles in movies.  His earliest titles weren't always hits--in fact, the first film he starred in, 1980's Popeye, was a big disappointment-- and they weren't even always that good, but it was clear he had the chops, and he kept working.  He also stretched as an actor, not always playing it for laughs, in films such as The World According To Garp and Moscow On The Hudson.  Other films in the mid-80s--The Survivors, The Best Of Times, Club Paradise--were received indifferently, but even in his weakest film he often did good work. (He was also suffering from drug addiction, but that's a separate story.)

Then, starting in 1987 with Good Morning, Vietnam, he starred in a series of successes that also received critical approbation, including Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and The Fisher King. Except for the last, I'm not much of a fan of these films, but they made Williams a major star. He also occasionally took smaller roles, appearing to good effect in films such as The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen and Dead Again.

In the early 90s he starred in some high profile films that didn't particularly impress, like Hook and Toys, but also was delightful as the voice of the genie in Aladdin and had a huge hit in the title role of Mrs. Doubtfire (once again, it's often his smashes I like least).  He followed soon after with two more hits, and two of his best performances--Jumanji and The Birdcage.  Next, he won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting.  While I don't think that much of the film or his performance, I can see why he signed on--the role of the understanding psychologist who teaches the protagonist about life was designed to attract a big name and win awards.

But he also made other films not quite as successful, such as Jack, Father's Day, What Dreams May Come, and the above-mentioned Bicentennial Man.  Ironically, it was a solid hit where the critics really turned on him--Patch Adams, where he plays a doctor who uses humor to help his patients.

Starting in 2000, with a new generation of clowns rising up, he was no longer the king of comedy, and his attempts at bringing the funny--Death To Smoochy, RV (which I have a soft spot for) Man Of The Year and Old Dogs, didn't add up to much.  But his smaller films offered some of his most incisive performances, such as One Hour Photo and especially World's Greatest Dad.

Yet, to the latest generation, he's probably best known supporting role of Teddy Roosevelt in the Night At The Museum films.

All along, he was a top-notch stand-up, running around making up jokes on the spot (or at least appearing to make them up--he was so notorious for stealing (unwittingly?) material from other comics that eventually they stopped performing if he was in the room).  He seemed to always be on, and any Robin Williams appearance on a talk show was an event.  It's hard not to believe we were seeing the real man--a natural-born entertainer who craved the spotlight.

Last year he starred in a sitcom, The Crazy Ones, which didn't make it past the first season. It was an attempt to harness the wild energy of the Mork years once more, but it didn't work the second time around. But I have to believe if he'd stuck around, we would have seen a lot more of him, and he would still have surprised us.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I remember him from the pre-Mork reboot of Laugh-In in the mid 70s. Even with the rainbow suspenders, he was the best thing there.

4:10 AM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I'm here to talk to you about the very serious problem of schizophrenia. - No he doesn't! - SHUT UP, LET HIM SPEAK!"

His other shtick on Laugh-In was to make the commercial break announcements and add "For those of you drugs, "weelll beee riiight baacck" (in a vinyl record played at a too slow speed voice). Maybe cheap and dumb today but it was hilarious (and apparently very memorable) to Middle Schooler at the time.

6:14 AM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I'm here to talk to you about the very serious problem of schizophrenia. - No he doesn't! - SHUT UP, LET HIM SPEAK!"

His other shtick on Laugh-In was to make the commercial break announcements and add "For those of you drugs, "weelll beee riiight baacck" (in a vinyl record played at a too slow speed voice). Maybe cheap and dumb today but it was hilarious (and apparently very memorable) to Middle Schooler at the time.

6:14 AM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was he depressed because of The Crazy Ones?

9:07 AM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only if he watched it

5:23 PM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too soon?

6:23 PM, August 12, 2014  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I actually liked The Crazy Ones and was sad to see it fail. It was teh second best new comedy last year (after Brooklyn 99) and much better than Michael J. Fox's endeavor (which failed as well).

Of course, I also liked his first movie outing "Popeye," which was wondrously bizarre, much like the comic strip and cartoons.

PG didn't mention Insominia, which I think is one of his top 3 films. Williams could be scary the way clowns can be scary, because their faces appear to be masks.

I found his performance in What Dreams May Come very powerful - ironic as it deals with his character trying to prevent his wife from committing suicide.

But Jumanji remains my favorite Williams film.

9:11 AM, August 13, 2014  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I might have mentioned I like Popeye. It wasn't the film the public wanted, but it's an oddity from Robert Altman that has a lot of interesting stuff.

9:41 AM, August 13, 2014  
Blogger chenlili said...

oakley sunglasses outlet
coach outlet
kate spade outlet
mlb jerseys cheap
canada goose sale
miami heat jerseys
ugg boots
louis vuitton handbags
fitflops
kate spade
hzx20161223

10:13 PM, December 22, 2016  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter