Robin Williams was found unresponsive at his California residence on August 11, and later declared dead in a possible suicide, at the age of 63. As tragic as the news was, the fact that he was said to have been suffering from ‘severe depression’ is all the more ironic; Dr. Sean Maguire (“Good Will Hunting”), John Keating (“Dead Poets Society”), Alan Parrish (“Jumanji”), Dr. Hunter Adams (“Patch Adams”) or even Andrew the android (“Bicentennial Man”) or the Genie (“Aladdin”) surely could not have killed himself, because of depression!
Beginning his career with hit TV series “Happy Days” (1978), his portrayal of the alien Mork was so successful that it spiraled into a spin-off show, “Mindy and Mork”. Over the next four decades, he would keep coming back to television, be it as a comedian on HBO shows, guest starring in hit series, or as the leading man in 2013’s “The Crazy Ones”. But it was for his films that the world will never be able to shake off Robin Williams. Although he debuted in “Can I do it Till I Need Glasses?” (1977), it was through “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987) that the world took notice (with an Academy Award nod) of his prowess. Then in 1992 he voiced Genie in “Aladdin” that marked the beginning of a number of notable voice characters (in “Fern Gully”, “A.I.”, “Robots” and Oscar-winning “Happy Feet”). His improvisational skills and animated voice range made him special as a voice actor; it’s said most of his dialogues as Genie were improvised. But that was just one shade of him. For playing psychologist Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting”, Williams picked up an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and was nominated twice more: for his roles in “Dead Poets’ Society” (as unorthodox English teacher John Keating, immortalising the catchphrase “O Captain! My Captain” from a Walt Whitman poem) and “The Fisher King” (as a homeless man). Although the film was criticised, his titular role in “Patch Adams” was another memorable one. His role as vagrant musician Maxell ‘Wizard’ Wallace in “August Rush” also comes to mind.
One thing that made Williams special, especially to the young audience, was the roles he played for them. Aside from Genie, he played the titular role in “Popeye” (1980), an adult Peter Pan in “Hook” (1991), the trapped-in-board-game adventurer Alan Parrish in “Jumanji” (1995), Professor Philip Brainard in “Flubber” (1997) and a coming-to-life Theodore Roosevelt in the “Night at the Museum” movies, where he will appear one final time in the third installment of the series this December.
But despite being a comedian and doing all those optimistic roles, he never shied away from playing darker ones, like in “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo” (both from 2002), where he played a killer, and a disturbed and obsessive photo-development technician. At one point, he was in running to play The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (and later as Riddler in the eventually-scrapped project “Batman Forever”).
Despite his issues with addiction, fall-out with Disney and three marriages, Robin Williams has been a sparkling presence and a towering figure in Hollywood for decades. One of his better-known quotes “You’re only given a little spark of madness. If you lose that, you’re nothing.” perhaps best describes the ideals he lived by. “Death is nature’s way of saying ‘Your table’s ready’,” Robin Williams said, and for those of us whose childhoods would be incomplete without him, that call came too soon.