Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams - Manic Genius

Robin Williams was an original - granted he was influenced by some who came before him, but he took from them and added his own flair.

Spectacularly breaking onto the TV scene in the 1970s as Mork from the Planet Ork, his character was silly but unique.  The best bits were the ones he improvised as the rest of the cast learned to be ready for whatever he might do.  The classic bits from the show came when his long-time idol, Jonathan Winters, appeared on the show as Mork and Mindy's son.  For some reason the Ork folks are born old and grow younger...what a concept!!!

Anyway, the audiences were treated to improvisation like no other, from two of the world's best practitioners of the art. We tuned in to laugh and worship at the altar of grand comedic timing.  The old saying is true.  Timing IS everything in comedy.  What's more it cannot be taught.  It is an instinctive ability.  You've either got it or you don't.  If you don't, best forget a career in stand-up. It's like having an ear for music or not...

Williams did not just do comedy.  He was a well-rounded actor, capable of playing a wide range of roles.  Contrast the magnificent drag impersonation in "Mrs. Doubtfire" to the cold, calculating, superior serial killer in "Insomnia."  Like the queen of drag, RuPaul, Williams was more than believable as a female.  It was a stellar performance, in a warm-hearted family movie.

In "Insomnia" he was frightening in his role, keeping pace with the great Al Pacino and Hillary Swank.  His performance gave me the shivers as much as Anthony Hopkin's did in "Silence of the Lambs."  Williams was totally real in his role with no semblance to the comic performer we knew.

I liked him in "Good Will Hunting", "The World According to Garp", "Dead Poet's Society", and especially "Patch Adams" where he got to play a caring doctor who sought to help those who were in need.

He was wonderful in "Good Morning, Vietnam", "Awakenings", and as the Genie in Disney's "Aladdin."

If you want to rouse me out of a sound sleep, play Williams' classic line "Good morning, Vietnam!!!!" I'll be wide awake.

Williams was a classically trained actor, graduating from the Julliard School in NYC, who had a far ranging talent.  At the time Williams was a student, the late John Houseman only recommended two young actors for their advanced studies program.  One was the late Christopher Reeve.  The other was Robin Williams.

Houseman was known as an exacting teacher/director, much like the character he played in "The Paper Chase."  That he only selected two students speaks volumes about the talent he saw in them.

Of all the things that impressed me about Robin Williams, it was his brain that worked at warp speed.  Manic in his delivery of improv, it was incredible to watch his brain function at a speed few people could dream about, much less achieve.

If you ever saw him on any late night talk show, you know what I mean.

I don't know the cause of the despair that led him to his final act, but I do know the result.  The world has been left a sadder place.

Robin, thank you for the glimpse of supernova brain power you gave us and for all the years when you made us laugh or cry or shrink down in our seats from fear. 

We will miss you.

Rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. He was a remarkable and versatile entertainer and he will be missed.