As Jeff Bridges’ self-hating DJ Jack Lucas says of Robin Williams’ Parry in THE FISHER KING, “You’re a psychotic man…a very nice psychotic man”. With the most affection possible, that would accurately describe Robin Williams’ public persona – a mad genius who could veer between playing gentle souls, exhaustingly hilarious live-wires and sad, deeply troubled individuals role-to-role. His sudden and tragic passing leaves a void that cannot be filled, because it belonged so completely to him.
While some would have first come across Williams through his unique stand-up routines, I’m just the right age to first grow to love him through the numerous family films he starred in throughout the 1990s – HOOK, ALADDIN, MRS. DOUBTFIRE and my personal favourite, JUMANJI.
Later, of course, I saw some of his live comedy, watched amazed as fellow guests on chat shows tried in vain to compete with him for attention, and grew to appreciate his talent for pathos as well as laughter. War satire GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM provided an outlet for Williams’ boundless, mischievous and manic energy before he tried his hand at being taken seriously.
Williams’ dramatic roles (more often than not performed with an appearance-transforming beard) were astonishing – full of subtle nuances and deep melancholy, and often involving scene-stealing extended monologues delivered with heartbreaking conviction. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King and Gus Van Sant’s GOOD WILL HUNTING (for which Williams won an Oscar) might be the two serious performances I’ll best remember him for, but I know a lot of people have a great affection for DEAD POETS SOCIETY as well.
Such a prolific performer is bound to have a few duds on his record, and Williams is no exception. BICENTENNIAL MAN was well-meaning but overblown, and unwisely tried to cram in Williams in both serious and not so serious modes. FLUBBER, out of all his family-orientated films is the one I have zero memory of beyond not being particularly amused by it even at age seven, and ROBOTS was just a but of a non-entity.
Williams still has several projects in development which he has completed work on (most notably a third NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM) but we will now never see the recently announced MRS. DOUBTFIRE 2, though perhaps that is for the best. Robin Williams is irreplaceable, certainly, but he leaves behind a body of work varied and satisfying enough to captivate viewers of all ages for years to come. SSP