What Was Robin Williams Like Behind-The-Scenes?
His work has touched countless lives, and will continue to do so for an unforeseen period of time. Robin Williams, the respected comedian and a beloved actor, graced the silver-screen for generations, making us laugh and cry. As the world begins to mourn an icon, let's take a look at his life beyond the reels of cinema.
On cinema, Robin Williams has been nothing if not prolific. After first finding fame in the late 70s as a kooky space alien in the sitcom Mork and Mindy, he became better known as a standup comedian, notes Decca Aitkenhead for The Guardian.
But it was his astonishing performance in Good Morning Vietnam that earned him an Oscar nomination in 1988, with two more in the following five years, for Dead Poets' Society and The Fisher King. Mrs Doubtfire, in which he dragged up to play a nanny, brought wider mainstream success, and in 1998 Good Will Hunting finally won him an Oscar. In recent years, however, he has made an awful lot of what would politely be described as less critically acclaimed films.theguardian.com
Some of them have been downright awful; schmaltzy family comedies drenched in maudlin sentiment, such as the unwatchably saccharine Patch Adams or, even worse, Old Dogs. When I ask why he made them, he says: "Well, I've had a lot of people tell me they watched Old Dogs with their kids and had a good time." It didn't offend his sense of integrity? "No, it paid the bills. Sometimes you have to make a movie to make money." He didn't mistake them, he adds, for intelligent scripts: "You know what you're getting into, totally. You know they're going to make it goofy. And that's OK."theguardian.com
Seen here are Robin Williams and first wife Valerie Williams during the Saturday Night Live taping in New York City on 11 November 1978. Back then, Williams often partied with SNL star John Belushi.
To many, the sharpness of his early standup has always seemed so incompatible with the sentimentality of his worst films that, as Decca Aitkenhead further notes, some of Williams' most ardent fans have always been confused by his film choices
In a recent interview when asked about his great friend Christopher Reeve, whether it was hard to see fans mourning Superman, when to him Reeve was a real person, a real friend, he says, solemnly:
"He was a friend. And also knowing him, especially after the accident and everything he went through – it was a weird thing." What was it like, I try again, to grieve privately for a public figure? "Well, it's a whole different game," he says, but then starts talking about the death of Reeve's wife a year later. "It happens all the time, I know, but I know their kids, they're amazing, and to see them go through so much loss in one year – that's tough."dailymail.co.uk
During an interview about his struggle with addiction in 2006, he told Diane Sawyer: "You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump'".
The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of 'just one' for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."huffingtonpost.com
More recently, Williams talked about the overwhelming fear and anxiety that led him to seek solace in alcohol. He used to be a big-drinking cocaine addict, but quit both before the birth of his eldest son in 1983, and stayed sober for 20 years. On location in Alaska in 2003, however, he started drinking again.
"I was in a small town where it's not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going fuck, maybe that will help. And it was the worst thing in the world." What did he feel like when he had his first drink? "You feel warm and kind of wonderful. And then the next thing you know, it's a problem, and you're isolated."theguardian.com
It only took a week of drinking before he knew he was in trouble, though. "For that first week you lie to yourself, and tell yourself you can stop, and then your body kicks back and says, no, stop later. And then it took about three years, and finally you do stop."huffingtonpost.com
It wasn't, he says, fun while it lasted, but three years sounds like a long time not to be having fun. "That's right. Most of the time you just realise you've started to do embarrassing things." He recalls drinking at a charity auction hosted by Sharon Stone at Cannes: "And I realised I was pretty baked, and I look out and I see all of a sudden a wall of paparazzi. And I go, 'Oh well, I guess it's out now'."dailymail.co.uk
While some have suggested it was Reeve's death that turned Williams back to alcohol, he denies, saying, "It's more selfish than that. It's just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn't."
What was he afraid of? "Everything. It's just a general all-round arggghhh. It's fearfulness and anxiety."
He, however, didn't take up cocaine again, because "I knew that would kill me"
"I'd have thought it would be a case of in for a penny – "In for a gram?" he smiles. "No. Cocaine – paranoid and impotent, what fun. There was no bit of me thinking, ooh, let's go back to that. Useless conversations until midnight, waking up at dawn feeling like a vampire on a day pass. No."theguardian.com
Speaking about his second marriage, to a film producer, that ended in 2008 – largely because of his drinking, he says:
"I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that's hard to recover from. You can say, 'I forgive you' and all that stuff, but it's not the same as recovering from it. It's not coming back."theguardian.com
The couple had been together for 19 years, and have a son and a daughter, both now grown up; he has another son from his first marriage to an actress in the late 70s.huffingtonpost.com
Williams remarried in 2011, to graphic designer Susan Schneider
While many loved Williams for his voice-over for genie, he actually got angry with Disney for using his voice as the genie in Aladdin to sell merchandise for the movie because he "doesn't want to sell stuff. It's the one thing I won't do."
Remembering Williams in a TIME Op-Ed, Jim Norton, a comedian, author, and actor, writes: "No one will ever know exactly what Robin Williams was thinking and feeling when he made the decision to end his pain the way he did. But I do know he wasn't seeing himself the way the rest of us saw him."
I first met Robin in 1998 when he came into the Comedy Cellar in New York City to do a guest spot. Comedians tend to be impossible to impress and love to stress how we’re impossible to impress when bigger, far more famous comedians come in to perform sets. But on this particular night, I noticed that none of the regulars were leaving when we were done. We were all finding excuses to hang around. None of us wanted to admit it, but Robin Williams was coming in, and we were genuinely excited.time.com
Now, any other group of performers would have proudly stood outside with streamers and a welcome banner, but comedians are jaded asses who would rather sit in the back of the room with our hearts pounding as we fold our arms and feign disinterest. What struck me the most about Robin was how important it was to him that the other comedians liked him. He was always gracious to the performer he had bumped off the lineup. That first night and during his many subsequent returns over the years, he would always come upstairs and sit with us at the “comedy table” in the back (made famous on Louie).time.com
He easily could have dominated the conversation; we all knew the difference between who he was and who we were. Robin was one of the few larger than life comedians who could have actually gotten a table full of other comics to just shut up and listen. But he didn’t. He joked and laughed with us and went out of his way to not tower above us. He probably never knew how much we loved him for that.time.com
In this image sent to BBC, Aliza Salviandra described herself as Williams's biggest fan in Indonesia, saying: "Thank you for bringing so much joy and laughter to my childhood"
Some more behind-the-scenes tales of Robin Williams in the form of photographs with everyday people who came across him and how he touched their lives
Yvonne Johnson met Robin Williams in London more than 20 years ago. "I met Robin when I worked as a bunny in The London Playboy Club in 1980. He was surrounded by an entourage, but he was quiet and didn't like too much attention. He was filming Popeye which is why he had the blonde hair at the time," she said. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
John Darcy met Williams on a beach in Hawaii: "Robin was very kind and happy to have his picture taken, despite being on holiday with his family. I always wished I could tell him how much this picture meant to me." Image via bbcimg.co.uk
"Robin was one of the main inspirations for my acting career", said Maya Post. She met the star when he was in the production of Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo on Broadway in 2011. "He created room in the industry for limitless possibilities and brought joy to all who he encountered," she said. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
Steve Payne worked as a camera operator with Williams in about 2002. "Shortly into a stand-up set in Santa Monica, he spotted a young girl in the audience and because she was there, he didn't swear once, or tell a single joke unsuitable for a child," he said. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
For Justin Augustyn, Williams came across as "super friendly, very gracious, personable and hilarious". They met at a tattoo shop in New York City owned by Lars Frederiksen of the punk band Rancid and the three of them spent half an hour chatting. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
Ewell Kameron Collins met the actor during the blackout that affected New York City in August 2003. He said he and a friend bumped into him at a record shop. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
Singer, musician and DJ from London DreZone said: "I was fortunate to have hung out and worked with this man a few years back. "When we first shook hands he greeted me with: 'How you doing Mr President!' - a moniker I still get called today by a good friend who was also there. "We had a lot of laughs backstage - a method actor who was also a genuinely nice and accessible guy. A true A-Lister. Image via bbcimg.co.uk
An actor from New York City, Jason Leal, met Williams in the West Village area. "He was walking down the street. I told him how Good Will Hunting changed my life. He was very engaging. I told him I had started acting, and that I had done one of his monologues. He immediately launched into the scene for me." Image via bbcimg.co.uk