Robin Williams

BIOGRAPHY

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ROBIN WILLIAMS

BIOGRAPHY

Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago. His father, Robert, was an executive for the Ford Motor Company, while his mother, Laurie, was a fashion model.

The comedian and actor came into the world on 21 July 1951 in Chicago, Ilinois to former model Laura and Ford Motor executive Robert. 

Williams was bullied badly during childhood for being chubby and would often spend much of his time playing alone in the family's large home to avoid his tormentors. Eventually, he conquered his overweight label though by joining the wrestling and tracks teams, and realised he could make the other children laugh as a way of gaining respect from them.

Williams' father took early retirement when he was 16 and they moved to California where he finished his education at Redwood High School. After graduation in 1969, Williams attended Claremont Men's College, studying political science and playing soccer. He ended up taking lessons in improvisation, which perfectly suited his sharp wit and he was soon hooked.

After leaving Claremont, Williams enrolled at the College of Marin to study acting and quickly won a full scholarship to the renowned Juilliard School in New York City where he studied with Christopher Reeve. The pair became great friends - a friendship that would last until Reeve's death in 2004. He also met dancer Valerie Velardi while at Juilliard and the couple wed in 1978 and had a son, Zachary.

Williams practiced stand-up in his spare time and he soon realised, after taking advice from a friend, that comedy rather than acting was his best way forward. He promptly left Juilliard for Los Angeles and ended up working his act on the West Coast comedy circuit. In 1977, Williams won a spot on 'The Richard Pryor Show' but his big break was just around the corner. Garry Marshall, creator of the hugely popular 'Happy Days' TV programme, was planning an 'out-there' episode where the Fonz would be abducted by aliens. At the auditions, Marshall asked Williams to sit down but he instead sat on his head and was instantly employed.

Playing Mork from the planet Ork, Robin was a sensation so much so that a new show was created for him – 'Mork And Mindy'. The show was a hit, earning Williams his first Golden Globe win in 1979 - Mork's greeting, 'Nanu-nanu', became a worldwide catch-phrase.

In 1980, Hollywood finally came knocking and Williams took the title role in Robert Altman's 'Popeye'. The critics and audience alike panned the film though and Williams was forced to seek solace in the comfort of Mork and Mindy for a further two years, until he starred in the film 'The World According To Garp'.

1982 marked a downfall in Williams' personal life as his battle with alcohol and drugs, specifically cocaine, had a destructive effect on his marriage, despite Valerie's attempts to curb his addictions. 1983's 'The Survivors' was another relative flop and it wasn't until 1987 and five films later, that Williams finally hit the jackpot with 'Good Morning Vietnam'.

Playing real-life military DJ Adrian Cronauer, Williams earned himself his first Academy Award nomination and his second Golden Globe win.

The following year, Valerie hired Marsha Garces to be nanny to Zachary. By 1987, Valerie and Williams had separated and Marsha became his assistant, travelling with him before the pair eventually fell in love and married in 1989, going on to have two children together - Zelda Rae and Cody Alan.

Three films were released starring Williams in 1988, 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen', 'Rabbit Ears: Pecos Bill' and 'Portrait of a White Marriage'. However, it wasn't until the following year that he would firmly grab the critic's attention once more with his star turn as a maverick teacher in 'Dead Poet's Society', a role which notched him his second Oscar nomination.

1990 saw Williams star in 'Cadillac Man', 'Back to Neverland' and 'Awakenings' - his performance as doctor Oliver Sacks alongside Robert De Niro was celebrated as being one of his most moving and heartfelt to date.

Terry Gilliam's 'The Fisher King' (1991) is often classed as Williams' best film and his role as a down-and-out who saves Jeff Bridges' life saw him nominated for an Academy Award for the third time. Steven Spielberg's 'Hook' in the same year was the total opposite theme of The Fisher King with its action-packed plot, yet despite breaking the $100 million barrier, the film was deemed to be overly sentimental and Spielberg's first flop.

Disney's 'Aladdin' in 1992 was a landmark in establishing the talents of Williams as a voice actor in his role of the Genie, the majority of which he improvised and ad-libbed. His performance as one the film's most notable A-list stars carried the box office receipts past $200 million.

Following on from the less successful 'Toys' (1992) and ‘'Being Human' (1993), it was Williams' wife Marsha who stumbled upon the script for 'Mrs Doubtfire' in 1993 and in turn, she went on to produce the film. The film was a huge international hit and won Williams a Golden Globe, plus the achievement of once again making a $200 million taking.

Williams was reunited with director Chris Columbus (Mrs Doubtfire) in the film 'Nine Months' (1995) which was far less of a success by comparison. He then received an Emmy nomination for a brief role in the TV programme 'Homicide: Life On The Streets', before returning to the children's market with the fantasy film 'Jumanji'.

'The Birdcage' (1996) saw Williams play the part of a gay club-owner whose son wants to bring his girlfriend (Calista Flockheart) and her strict conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest) to stay and was yet another $100 million hit. Williams followed this flamboyant part with the lead in 'Jack', directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He played a child with an ageing disorder that saw him in a 40-year-old body at the age of 10 and while he gave an endearing performance, the premise of the film failed to attract a wide audience.

Williams diversified his work throughout 1996 and 1997, taking small parts in 'Hamlet' (1996) and 'The Secret Agent' (1996) as well as Woody Allen's 'Deconstructing Harry' (1997). 1997 was set to be a great year, first marking success with the release of Disney's 'Flubber' - a box office triumph.

Yet it was to be the collaboration with newcomers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that would raise the stakes in Williams' career. 'Good Will Hunting' saw Williams play Sean Maguire, psychiatrist to Damon's troubled genius, and his performance earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

A series of less impacting films between 1999 and 2001 followed, until Williams played a 'baddie' for the first time in his career in the film 'One Hour Photo' (2002). He won rave reviews as a photo lab worker who becomes devoted to a young local family, but gradually starts to become more strange and sinister.

'Death To Smoochy' in 2002 failed to rake in the box office big bucks despite having a great script and cast including Ed Norton, with Danny De Vito in the director's chair. That year, as 'Death to Smoochy' and 'Insomnia' were released, Williams returned to his roots, selling-out on Broadway with another impressive stand-up show.

Despite not being seen on screen again for another two years, he was in fact extremely busy and his stock of already-complete films were being released in slow droves. These included 2004 movies 'Noel', a Christmas-themed drama, David Duchovny's directorial debut 'House of D' and 'The Final Cut', which also co-starred James Caviezel and Mira Sorvino. He went on to star in 'The Aristocrats' and 'Robots' in 2005 and picked up a nomination for a Blimp Award for Favourite Voice from an Animated Feature.

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Six movie releases in 2006 highlighted Williams' versatility as an actor. In 'Man of the Year', he played the role of Tom Dobbs, the host of a comedy/political talk show. He then took on a different character in computer animated feature film 'Everyone's Hero' in which he had a voice role. 'Runaway Vacation' saw him portray a California beverage company executive struggling with a dysfunctional family on a holiday full of mishaps.

'The Night Listener', based on the novel by Armistead Maupin, saw Williams as a gay radio show host who, on air, befriends a 14-year-old abuse victim - a role which he accepted for only $65,000. This was followed by the rather more cheerful animation 'Happy Feet', which was a global hit. 'Night At The Museum', with Ben Stiller, followed suit, with Williams playing a comic version of the former president Theodore Roosevelt.

In 2007, Williams entertained fans in romantic comedy 'License to Wed' and drama 'August Rush', which were followed by roles in 'Shrink' and 'World's Greatest Dad' in 2009. During this period his marital status changed again as Marsha filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences in 2008.

Reprising his role as President Roosevelt, Williams teamed up with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson once more in 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian'. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the movie was a commercial success like its predecessor. 'Old Dogs' (2009), a collaboration with John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Matt Dillon, also performed well at the box office.

Since then he has reprised his voice roles in animated 'Happy Feet Two' in 2011, which was his only project that year. Williams married his third wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider, on 23 October 2011 in St Helena, California.

In 2012, he appeared in the TV comedy 'Wilfred', which stars Elijah Wood who is the only man that can see his neighbour's dog as a full-grown man.

This was followed by an appearance in 'The Big Wedding', which was released in November 2012, as well as 'The Face of Love', 'The Butler' in 2013 and 'The Angriest Man In Brooklyn', in 2014.

With a career spanning 30 years, during which he has received over 40 awards, including an Oscar, and been nominated nearly 50 times, Williams' appeal will no doubt span many more generations to come.

Robin died on 11 August 2014 at his home in California in an apparent suicide. His spokesperson released a statement stating that Robin had recently been struggling with depression.

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