Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014

Robin Williams - July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014 | A Constantly Racing MindI received some very disturbing and heartbreaking news today. Actor Robin Williams was found dead today. In what the news media calls "an apparent suicide." Like many of you my age and older, met Robin Williams when he first appeared as Mork from Ork in an episode of "Happy Days" back in the late 1970's.  He went on to star in his own television show with co-star Pam Dawber titled "Mork and Mindy."  As I look back, both of those shows were corny by today's standards, but nonetheless I remember them with fondness.  I watched as Robin Williams transferred his talent to the big screen.  

In 1980, I went to the theater to watch him star as one of my favorite childhood cartoon heroes, "Popeye."  He starred along with Shelly Duvall, who was also starring the same year in the Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick horror film, "The Shining."  Even as a teenager on the verge of adulthood, I could still appreciate Robin's performance as the spinach-eating sailor.  A few years later, I was blown away with the extremely adult drama, "The World According to Garp."  Glenn Close starred as his feminist mother, and Mary Beth Hurt as his wife.  At that time I, I already knew Robin and Mary Beth, but I didn't know Glenn Close nor did I know John Lithgow who played the transgender pro-football player, Roberta Muldoon.  One of the best lines in the film comes from Lithgow, "I used to be a tight-end, and now I am a wide receiver."

I haven't seen all of Robin's films during that period, as I was alone in the world for the first time.  However, in 1987 I was wowed again as Williams took on the role of U.S. Air Force Airman Adrian Cronauer.  the film was "Good Morning Vietnam."  Cronauer was a radio D.J. for the military and had an unique style of bringing Rock and Roll music and the controversial war news to the servicemen in Vietnam.  Forest Whitaker and the late Bruno Kirby also starred along side him.

As English Professor Keating, he inspired Ethan Hawke and the viewers in "Dead Poets Society."  In "Awakenings," he played Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a doctor working to find a cure for a strain of encephalitis that afflicted patients during an epidemic earlier in the century. Robert De Niro plays one his catatonic patients that he cures for a time.  

Sometimes, an alternative take on a children's classic is in order, and Williams stepped up to the plate to play an older, reality based, workaholic businessman who once when he was younger was Peter Pan.  "Hook" came out in 1991 and co-starred Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, the late Bob Hoskins as the pirate Smee, and Dustin Hoffman as the infamous Captain Hook, in a film that both adults and children could love.

Ask me what my favorite Disney film is and my answer will definitely be "Aladdin" for 1992.  Although I didn't see the film at the theater, I bought the VHS to watch with my daughter when she was old enough to sit up.  I love the film primarily for Williams' role as the Genie.  

Throughout his career, his lyrical rambling would take me by surprise, and the weird things he would come up with were just amazing.  His only equal was, of course, his mentor, Jonathon Winters.  Reports from behind the scenes on films and TV shows were that he always was improv mode mode, and he would interrupt production with his comedic hijinks.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" in 1993 with Sally Fields is a film that is required watching in my house from year to year. Both funny and dramatic, Williams could be a master of both in one film. Another film that my family likes to watch from time to time is "Jumanji" where Williams plays Alan Parrish, a young boy trapped in a board game and comes back years later after living in the jungle.  


Good Will Hunting: Matt Damon & Robin Williams | A Constantly Racing Mind
In 1996, Nathan Lane starred with Williams, in the English language adaptation of a play by Jean Poiret, called the "The Birdcage." The play centered on a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiance's right-wing moralistic parents.

"Good Will Hunting" in 1997 was a major cinematic success for Williams.  The story, written by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck gave Williams the chance to earn his first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.  Playing the psychotherapist who helps Damon's character break through his hostility and rage Williams showed the depth of acting abilities.

1998 was the year that Williams starred as the charismatic, Doctor in "Patch Adams." Williams, through the character of Adams was able to transform the healing art of medicine, by adding humor and genuine care to the profession.  The film also starred the recently deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In the beginning of a new century, Williams tried his hand at being the antagonist. He played the bad guy in the creepy, and disturbing "One Hour Photo" in 2002.  As the guy who develops photos at the local one hour photo,, he becomes strangely obsessed with a particular family and begins to stalk them.  As crime novelist Walter Finch he plays Al Pacino for a fool in the crime drama "Insomnia "  In the science fiction film,  "The Final Cut," Williams finds himself targeted, after revealing some secrets about a prominent lawyer for the company that he works for.

Back to comedy in 2006, he once again played a workaholic businessman in "RV." Trying to combine a business trip with a family vacation, which led to some silly, but sentimental escapist fun.  Williams didn't always play the lead character, sometimes he did small brief, but important parts.  Such as his role as the 26th President of the United States when he was a "Rough Rider in the Ben Stiller 2006 comedy "Night at the Museum."  He reprises his role again in 2009, and once again later this year in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb."  He starred with John Travolta in the 2009 family comedy "Old Dogs." More escapist fun.


What Dreams May Come:  Robin Williams | A Constantly Racing Mind
For me, however, my favorite film of Robin Williams was the beautifully filmed, metaphysical oriented, but somewhat flawed and totally misunderstood, "What Dreams May Come." This is also the film come to mind now that I hear about his death.   The film deals with themes of depression, the afterlife, suicide, the eternity of the family and the soul, and the concept of heaven and hell.  A beautiful movie that challenges religious beliefs and questions existence in general.  

A few more Robin Williams films are yet to be released.  "Boulevard" is scheduled out later this year.  The synopsis on IMDB says "A devoted husband in a marriage of convenience is forced to confront his secret life."

Also out later this year is a film titled "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn." "A curmudgeonly man is mistakenly told that he has 90 minutes to live by his doctor and promptly sets out to reconcile with his wife, brother and friends in the short time he believes he has left."

In post production and due out in 2015, "Absolutely Anything" has Williams voicing Dennis the Dog in a film about, "A teacher experiences a series of mishaps after discovering he has magical powers."

Assuming that the producers keep on schedule, and they decide to release this film around Christmas, we will see Robin Williams again in "Merry Friggin' Christmas."  Kind of a family vacation film, "Boyd Mitchler and his family must spend Christmas with his estranged family of misfits. Upon realizing that he left all his son's gifts at home, he hits the road with his dad in an attempt to make the 8-hour round trip before sunrise."

Watching "The Crazy Ones" on CBS was a joy.  I liked the show and caught most of the episodes, including his on screen reunion with his ex co-star Pam Dawber.  I like the cheerfulness of the show and of course Robin's brand of comedy.  CBS cancelled the show after one season.  Numbers are everything.

Although I am deeply saddened, by Robin Williams' passing, I am happy to remember him as an artist who made films that touched people's hearts and filled the world with some zany humor to keep us keeping on.  Thank you Robin for all the memories you gave us in film, television, and interviews where you cracked up the audience, the interviewer, and me.