By Linda Shortman
A student of Julliard, Robin Williams’ early career was in stand-up comedy. His success earned him opportunities on sitcoms. He came into the pop culture consciousness as Mork from Ork on Happy Days. The positive reception of that character led to the spin-off Mork & Mindy. He was quirky, endearing and hilarious. His gift for comedy was evident, and the world fell in love with this brilliant talent.
Soon, he demonstrated his dramatic chops in The World According to Garp. This performance surprised most fans of his comedy. Following up with Good Morning Vietnam gave audiences his comedic style along with his dramatic skills. Dead Poets Society and Awakenings further proved that Williams should be taken seriously as an actor.
Aladdin showed amazing voice acting skills, and his performances in Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage stole audience’s hearts. Good Will Hunting earned him the Oscar he so richly deserved. In the 2000s, Williams explored independent films, playing complex characters. Every once in a while, there were a few comedies to lighten the resume.
These are films that I think exhibit Robin Williams’ comedic gift and acting prowess.
As a radio DJ in Vietnam Williams’ character uses humor and music to maintain morale. His irreverent style delights the troops and annoys his superiors to great comedic and dramatic effect. This film earned Williams his first Academy Award nomination.
An English teacher instills creative thinking and support to his students. Though his methods are unconventional, he is effective. As the students explore poetry and ways to look at life there is drama and controversy. To this day this film can be credited with people quoting, “Carpe Diem” and “O Captain My Captain.”
In Disney’s animated version of the story of the street urchin Aladdin, Williams voiced the bombastic, hilarious genie. Quick talking and well intentioned his character makes the film.
A divorced man charades as a housekeeper to spend more time with his children. The result is a tribute to themes of family, love, and dedication. For all of the funny situations, the heart of this film is huge, mostly due to Williams’ performance.
Mike Nichols and Elaine May give La cage aux Folles a modern turn when a gay couple charade as straight when meeting their son’s in-laws to-be. This is a smart comedy with a lot to say about chosen family.
Will Hunting is a self-taught genius. After getting in a legal tussle he works with a court-ordered therapist to find his life’s direction. In doing so, they find their way. This is the performance that won Williams an Oscar.
As a man working in a one-hour photo lab, Williams portrays an obsessive character to great effect. Though he had done dramatic roles to this point, this film defined his success in the independent film world. More would follow.
In this film, when the lights go out at the Museum of Natural History the exhibits come to life. Robin Williams plays Teddy Roosevelt and adds gravity and a sense of humor to history. This whole series is a lot of fun to watch.