It’s hard to believe that someone as full of life, energy and talent as Robin Williams is gone. Perhaps it’s even harder to think of someone who brought so much joy to others being in so much pain. From his earliest days on television in the delightfully comic “Mork and Mindy” to his later, more serious roles in Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and others to his glorious stand-up and Comic Relief work, he had been a positive force in the world for almost forty years. While we all reflect on the great loss his passing represents, let’s also take a moment to pay tribute by looking back some of his best on-screen performances — and the legacy he leaves behind:
GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987)
Williams earned his first Oscar nomination for his fantastic performance as fast-talking Vietnam War Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer. Each and every on-air bit is comedy gold (serious gold) but what caught most people by surprise was how well the actor handled the trickier dramatic moments along the way.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
As unconventional and influential poetry prof Mr. Keating, Robin Williams encouraged an entire generation of movie-goers to seize the day, to make their lives extraordinary and to live their dreams. Though the film recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, the intervening years haven’t yet lessened the emotional impact of his performance. The memorable, Peter Weir-directed role nabbed the actor his second Oscar nod.
THE FISHER KING (1991)
In this allegorical tale from director Terry Gilliam, Williams plays Parry, a troubled and traumatized homeless man on a search for the Holy Grail (and his salvation) in contemporary New York City. In his search, Parry finds and helps a suicidal radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) find his own redemption, hope and love. The touching and unique film also marked Williams’ third Oscar nomination.
In this Spielbergian tale of the perils of cynicism and the importance of youthful joy and enthusiastic discovery, Williams plays Peter Pan all grown up. Gone is the fairy dust and abundant imagination, replaced instead by meetings and monotony. As Peter travels back to Neverland and rediscovers what is truly important, we’re reminded just why we believed in fairies right along with him. Williams’ deftly handles the character’s fantastical arc, bring us right along with him as he learns that life can be the awfully big adventure we all wished for in our childhood.
In what is largely (and rightly) considered to be the perfect pairing of actor and role, Williams’ genius Genie is now the mark against which all other voice-over parts are measured. With some “punch, pizzazz, Yahoo and how,” he channelled his kinetic energy into one of the most memorable Disney characters of all time. Will anyone ever really top it? We doubt it.
MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)
With its memorable slapstick and even more memorably comedic one-liners, this tale of an unemployed, divorced dad and the considerable lengths he’ll go to to see his kids – including dressing up with a latex mask, aged wig and impressively effusive Scottish accent as one Euphegenia Doubtfire, imposing nanny extraordinaire – was so popular there was a sequel in the work over two decades later.
Perfectly walking the line between humour and a surprising amount of melancholy, this children’s blockbuster of a film follows Alan Parish (Williams) and the bad-luck board game that has trapped him within its hidden jungles for decades. In a film full of danger, comedic gem moments and enough special effects to make even James Cameron envious, Williams grounds the story in as much reality as possible and gives the movie its heart with his relatable and empathetic performance as Parish.
THE BIRDCAGE (1996)
Williams appears here as Armand Goldman, the straighter (pun intended) of the two lead roles in this English-language remake of La Cage Aux Folles. Despite the subtler material, he still manages to pretty much steal every scene he’s in in this heartwarming tale of love, in all its forms — a tall order opposite both Nathan Laneand Hank Azaria. If you haven’t watched in awhile, do yourself a favour and check out the scene where Armand schools one of his performers on dance.
GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)
Though serious roles were old hat to Williams by the late ’90s, there was something about his gruff yet empathetic therapist that reminded us just how powerful and subtle an actor he could be. The part impressed the Academy too and earned Williams his only Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor.
PATCH ADAMS (1998)
In this true story of Hunter Adams, Williams took on the title role of a man committed to helping heal the sick through joy and laughter. Though it may seem too on the nose given his passing, it’s hard not to see Williams’ own legacy and life somewhat mirrored here in Adams’ own mission.
There are so many fantastic films and roles that we could’ve included here, but we wanted to hear from you. Which of Robin Williams’ roles and/or films will you most remember him for?
Leave a Reply