We mourn the passing of Robin Williams who died on August 11 in his home in Northern California. He was 63. The preliminary cause of death is said to be suicide by asphyxia. His spokesperson confirmed that he was suffering from severe depression.
The actor and comedian was beloved by his legions of fans for his genius for improvisation and impersonation, and the dazzling ability to riff on any subject, but he also received acclaim for his serious roles in films such as Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo and Awakenings. He was a four time Golden Globe winner for his performances in Mrs.Doubtfire, The Fisher King, Good Morning, Vietnam and Mork and Mindy, the television series created for him that was spun off a guest appearance on Happy Days. He was nominated for the award ten times. The HFPA also honored Williams with the Cecil B. DeMille award in 2005 for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. A special Globe was given to him in 1993 for his voiceover work as the Genie in Aladdin.
HFPA members have a special place in their hearts for Williams. His press conferences were always thronged because we knew he would put on a show. After 45 minutes of laughter, there was the monumental task of conveying the experience to our readers, trying to capture his motor-mouth harmonies, his amazing segues, the virtuoso impersonations, and above all, the humanity of his talent. He always joked with us about the question he waited for – “How are the kids?” – teasing that it meant we didn’t care for his project. Untrue, as it happens. It was just that he was so open about his life and his struggles and we wanted to know about him and the ones he cared about.
“I have no mental barriers or censorship barriers. That gland burned out long ago,” he told us when we asked about his abilities. “More than two people to me is an audience. I’ll do puppet shows, anything.” How far is too far? “You go where you want to go until someone says stop. You go because people will be laughing and you’ll go and you’ll be following it and you’ll be going, and all of a sudden you go over the edge and you’ll see people go whoopsie! whoopsie! I went to Afghanistan and performed there and I was doing a riff. And there were all these Special Forces guy who looked like heavily armed Amish. And I started to do a riff on Special Forces being like, special. I’m very special. I have a gun and I hunt Al Qaeda. And you could see one guy in the front like, don’t do that. And he had a gun and I went I’d better stop. So you realize that sometimes for your own safety you stop. And then sometimes you’ll be doing something for a small audience and it’ll play for a big audience and you’ll get people writing in letters. Dear Mr. Williams, your humor offends me. I am in prison but I still find you attractive.”
Aside from his USO tours, Williams was also known for his charity work. Along with friends Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, he was a huge fundraiser for Comic Relief, the charity that helps the homeless.
When he accepted his DeMille award, he dedicated it to his friend Christopher Reeve and quoted Hamlet by saying, “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, sweet prince.” We say the same to you, Robin. R.I.P.