Nationality: American. Born: Chicago, Illinois, 21 July 1952. Education: Attended Marin College; Claremont Men's College; Juilliard School of Music and Drama. Family: Married 1) Valerie Velardi, 1978 (divorced), son: Zachary; 2) Marsha Garces, 1989, children: Cody and Zelda. Career: 1970s—cabaret performer in San Francisco and Los Angeles; 1978–82—in TV series Mork and Mindy ; 1980—film debut in Popeye ; 1986—recorded stage show in Robin Williams at the Met . Agent: Carol Bodie, c/o Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Popeye (Altman) (title role)
The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill) (as Garp)
The Survivors (Ritchie) (as Donald Quinelle)
Moscow on the Hudson (Mazursky) (as Vladimir Ivanoff)
The Best of Times (Spottiswoode) (as Jack Dundee); Club Paradise (Ramis) (as Jack Minoker); Seize the Day (Cook—for TV) (as Tommy Wilhelm)
Good Morning, Vietnam (Levinson) (as Adrian Cronauer); Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (Couturie—doc for TV)
Dead Poets Society (Weir) (as John Keating); The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Gilliam) (as King of the Moon)
Cadillac Man (Donaldson) (as Joey O'Brien); Awakenings (Penny Marshall) (as Dr. Malcolm Sayer)
Dead Again (Branagh) (as Dr. Cozy Carlisle); The Fisher King (Gilliam) (as Parry); Hook (Spielberg) (as Peter Pan)
Toys (Levinson) (as Leslie Zevo); Shakes the Clown (Goldthwait) (as Mime Jerry); FernGully: The Last Rainforest (Kroyer—animation) (as voice of Batty Koda); Aladdin (Musker and Clements—animation) (as voice of Genie)
Mrs. Doubtfire (Columbus) (as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Iphegenia Doubtfire, + co-pr)
Being Human (Forsyth) (as Hector); The Road to Wellville (Alan Parker); In Search of Dr. Seuss (Paterson) (as the Father)
Jumanji (Johnston) (as Alan Parrish); Nine Months (Columbus) (as Dr. Kosevich); To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (Kidron) (as John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt)
The Birdcage (Mike Nichols) (as Armand Goldman); Jack (Coppola) (title role); Hamlet (Branagh) (as Osric); The Secret Agent (Hampton) (as the Professor)
Great Minds Think for Themselves (series for TV) (as voice of The Genie); Deconstructing Harry (Allen) (as Mel); Flubber (Mayfield) (as Professor Philip Brainard); Good Will Hunting (Van Sant) (as Sean Maguire)
What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward) (as Chris Nielsen); Patch Adams (Shadyac) (as title role); In My Life (Benson—for TV) (as himself)
Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as himself); Jakob the Liar (Kassovitz) (as Jakob Heym + exec pr); Bicentennial Man (Columbus) (as Andrew)
Interview in Interview (New York), August 1986.
Interview with B. Lewis, in Films and Filming (London), September 1988.
Interview with Lisa Grunwald, in Esquire (New York), June 1989.
"The Hairiest Man in Hollywood," interview with Frank Sanello, in Empire (London), December 1991.
Interview in Playboy (Chicago), January 1992.
Interview with Michel Cieutat, Hubert Niogret and Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), March 1994.
Interview with Alex McGregor and Brian Case, in Time Out (London), 19 January 1994.
"I Always Wonder If People Laugh At, Or With, Me," an interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), 16 December 1995.
Interview with B. Bibby, in Premiere (Boulder), April 1996.
Moore, Mary Ellen, Robin Williams , New York, 1979.
Allen, Steve, Funny People , New York, 1981.
Robin-Tani, Marianne, Robin Williams , New York, 1988.
David, Jay, The Life and Humor of Robin Williams: A Biography , New York, 1999.
Current Biography 1979 , New York, 1979.
Ansen, David, "King of Comedy," in Newsweek (New York), 7 July 1986.
Time Out (London), 17 August 1988.
"Actor: On the Job with Robin Williams," in Life (New York), Spring 1989.
Chevallier, J., "Protéiforme Robin Williams," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), January 1990.
Lurie, Rod, "Motor Mouth," in Empire (London), October 1990.
Morgenstern, Joe, "Robin Williams: More than a Shtick Figure," in New York Times Magazine , 11 November 1990.
Giles, Jeff, and Mark Seliger, "Robin Williams: Fears of a Clown," in Rolling Stone (New York), 21 February 1991.
Ross, Lillian, "Mr. and Mrs. Williams," in New Yorker , 20 September 1993.
Kornbluth, Jesse, "Robin Williams's Change of Life," in New York , 22 November 1993.
Radio Times (London), 2 November 1996.
* * *
Buried under makeup as Popeye or dragging the literary fantasy apparatus of The World According to Garp , Robin Williams failed to make his mark in his first two movies. It took Michael Ritchie's messy contemporary comedy The Survivors to set loose the manic power of his stand-up persona. Williams's ability to create a character as it disintegrates makes his Donald, a man who tries to prepare for urban chaos by joining a survivalist camp, a wild original. Williams can assert his star personality and stay in character even while functioning as the most free-swinging element in very knockabout farce. The outlandishly thin-skinned Donald shows Williams in his most antic mode. This is also how he played Jack Dundee in The Best of Times , a man who cannot live down having blown his small-town high school football team's final game. Manipulating the old team into replaying the game enables him to get past it—he has to get much crazier before he can calm down. Similarly, as Parry in Terry Gilliam's Fisher King we first see Williams talking to "the little people" in conversational switches so fast he seems as much tic as man, and then learn how he became homeless and admittedly, cheerfully psychotic, and how he thinks he can recover. He sends co-star Jeff Bridges—as a burnt-out talk show DJ inadvertently responsible for the death of Williams's wife—on a quest for the Holy Grail which manages to reintegrate them both. If Fisher King is not cloying that is largely because of the extended conversations among the four leads. Williams pairs off with an equally whacked-out Amanda Plummer, and romantic comedy never threw screwier balls. These three performances of Williams's cohere wonderfully but are not for people hung up on gradual transitions.
But he can do shading, too. He remains himself while acting in a naturalistic vein in Paul Mazursky's Moscow on the Hudson , playing a Russian saxophonist who defects in Bloomingdale's, and in Dead Poets Society as a prep-school teacher receiving students in his cramped quarters. Williams can be precious, but he is almost always earthy, with an amazingly unforced broadness of spirit. And he is gone bare-assed in his movies surprisingly often, unthinkable in someone like Danny Kaye. Williams is both freakier and warmer than most big comedy stars—freakier because he fires from a solidly realistic launching pad.
The other side of his performance in Dead Poets Society is, of course, the stand-up, which he first played as the DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam . These pictures give him audiences for his motormouth outbursts within the stories, and then attach our feelings for Williams the entertainer to paltry melodramas in which his characters try to save young boys. Williams as cutup, as opposed to Williams's characters who are cutups, comes across best in Aladdin in which he improvised as the voice of the Genie, leaving the animators to keep up. He made the comedy play at five times the speed of any other Disney cartoon feature.
Probably because of Williams's unthreatening directness, several of his pictures function as baby-sitters— Hook , Toys , Mrs. Doubtfire , Jumanji . Even as a negligent father or a bitter man, as in Hook and Jumanji , the scripts make him unpleasant only to redeem him. And Williams is not someone who needs help being likable. Mrs. Doubtfire is the most successful of these vehicles because we can see that Daniel, who loses his wife and custody of their children because he cannot assume adult responsibility, really is the loose cannon his ex-wife complains of. Even the way he thwarts her, by getting himself hired in drag as his children's nanny, seems more crazy than touching. This is hilariously clear whenever Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire cannot hold "her" tongue around the ex-wife's new boyfriend. In the climactic restaurant scene Daniel sprints from a table where he is supposed to be in drag, to one where he is not, but has so many drinks he loses track. When Daniel in drag snickers that "she" has "to piss like a racehorse," Williams adds burlesque pungency for the adults of all ages in the helpless audience.
As a middle-ground variation Williams can play the relative straight man—superbly to Tim Robbins's deranged husband holding Williams's philandering car salesman hostage in Cadillac Man , and less effectively to Nathan Lane as his drag queen "wife" in The Birdcage , a remake of La Cage aux folles . The Birdcage feels like something left onshore by a receding tide, but Williams plays it honest, unself-consciously adopting gay mannerisms. As a comedian Williams is commercial in the best sense and neither cynical or lazy. He has taken on a wide range of projects and varied his approach, letting co-star Bonnie Hunt in Jumanji provide the laugh-getting commentary on the action that we expect from Williams, or taking the less flamboyant role in The Birdcage in order to avoid simply repeating the formula of Mrs. Doubtfire . He challenges himself in a way that allows the audience to keep pace with him. And when he is sparking we feel juiced for life.