Williams a comic force, versatile actor
By David Bauder, AP
August 13, 2014, 12:02 am TWN
NEW YORK -- The question from a fan in a Sirius XM interview last year was innocent — what do you think you'd be doing if you didn't become a comedian? — and within seconds Robin Williams was impersonating physicist Stephen Hawking getting a lap dance at a strip club.
"Now don't sit on the keyboard!" Williams said, coaxing laughs from a few dozen people in a Manhattan studio.
How did he get there? Explaining it would take twice as long as it took to actually happen. Would anyone else in the world have made such a leap?
Not a chance. Williams, who died in an apparent suicide Monday, was a comic force of nature. The world got to know him as the wild alien in "Mork & Mindy," a comedian who elevated improvisation to an art form and also demonstrated a rare versatility in more serious roles. He moved seamlessly from comedy to drama to tragedy to comedy again during a Hollywood heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. His Academy Award as a supporting actor in "Good Will Hunting" came in a drama.
In 1997, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Williams the funniest man alive, and the very next year listed him as one of the world's 25 best actors — a double distinction that made him rare, if not unique.
He touched every generation and demographic, making his entrance in a 1970s comic generation with Steve Martin, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Billy Crystal. He exploded onto the scene at a time when two schools of comedy dominated — "Saturday Night Live" and Johnny Carson — and Williams felt equally comfortable running with both crowds.
Williams was the voice of a genie in "Aladdin" and a hyper disc jockey in "Good Morning Vietnam." In "Mrs. Doubtfire," he played a dad who dressed as a woman to see his kids, and in "Birdcage," he played a gay man. He was an English teacher in "Dead Poets Society," a scientist in "Awakenings" and a prisoner of war in "Jakob the Liar." In this year's independent film, "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn," Williams played a man mistakenly told he had 90 minutes to live.
On a stage, in front of the lights, is where Williams shined most brightly. The riffs, tangents and impersonations came rushing at the audience, a seemingly endless torrent. It looked like onstage cocaine, a drug he abused in real life and, of course, made part of his comedy.
"Cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money," he would say.