Known for his legendary improvisation skills, Robin Williams was one of the most beloved comedians of his time. Although he rose to fame as Mork on Mork & Mindy, he was more than just a funny man. He delivered widely-praised dramatic performances in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “The Fisher King,” and “Good Will Hunting,” the last of which earned him the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sadly, Williams took his own life after losing a lifelong battle against depression and Lewy body dementia. When we lost Robin, we lost a little bit of brightness in the world, but we’ll never forget the laughter and joy he brought us.
Here are some facts about America’s favorite alien: Robin Williams.
33. What Did They Know?
Williams graduated from Redwood High School where he was voted “Least Likely to Succeed,” which begs the question: Why do they even have that award?!
32. Fat Camp
Williams has claimed that, when he was a child, he was quite overweight and nobody would play with him. As a result, he would entertain himself by talking in different voices.
Robin Williams childhood photo… looks like he’s in good shape to me!
31. Interesting Advice…
When Williams began training at Julliard, he was told to focus more on his stand-up comedy than waste time in acting classes.
30. Strong, Silent Type
To make money, Williams would perform on the street outside of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a mime.
29. Geographically Challenged?
Early on his career, he told a reporter that he was born in Scotland. He later recanted that statement, claiming he was “under the influence” at the time. He was actually born in Chicago.
28. Alien Invader
Williams’ first big break was when he was cast as Mork the alien on Happy Days back in 1978 when this sort of plot device made sense. His character was spun off into the hit series Mork & Mindy.
27. Maybe We’re the Ones Who Are Upside Down
During his audition for the role of Mork, when the producers asked him to sit down for the interview, Williams sat on his head. He was hired immediately because, “He was the only alien who auditioned.”
In the late 70s and early 80s, Williams was heavily addicted to cocaine and alcohol. It was the death of his close friend John Belushi and the birth of his oldest son that finally convinced him to quit.
25. I Yam Who I Yam
His film debut was in Robert Altman’s disastrous Popeye, an ill-advised live action version of the comic strip that respected critic Leonard Maltin described as a bomb.
24. The Gift that Keeps on Giving
During his first marriage, Williams had an affair with a cocktail waitress who sued him for giving her herpes. This incident lends credence to the mathematical formula: Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
23. This Never Would Have Happened With Mrs. Doubtfire
After he and his first wife got divorced, Williams married his child’s nanny, who was already several months pregnant with another of Robin’s children (Zelda). They remained married for 19 years before she filed for divorce.
22. Writing Skills
Williams was such a good improviser that the writers of Mork and Mindy would deliberately leave gaps in the screenplay for him to fill in.
Williams’ favorite celebrity to impersonate was Jack Nicholson. On the flip side, Williams said that Dana Carvey did the best impression of him.
Williams and Superman actor Christopher Reeve became really good friends when they both attended Julliard. Williams claimed that Reeve was “literally feeding me because I don’t think I literally had money for food or my student loan hadn’t come in yet, and he would share his food with me.” Superman indeed.
19. Laughter is the Best Medicine
After Reeve’s tragic equestrian accident left him paralyzed, Williams showed up at the hospital pretending to be an eccentric Russian proctologist who was going to perform a rectal exam on him. Reeve claims this was the first time he laughed following the accident, and that it prevented him from sinking into a deep despair.
18. And the Oskar Goes To…
When Steven Spielberg was filming Schindler’s List, Williams would call and tell him jokes to try and lift his spirits because, apparently, the Holocaust is depressing.
17. Legendary Daughter
Williams’ daughter Zelda was named after the eponymous videogame character in the Legend of Zelda. It was Williams’ son Zachary who came up with the idea.
16. Wish Granted
In order to woo Williams for the role of the Genie, Disney animated and lip-synced the Genie performing William’s stand-up comedy. Williams was so impressed that he signed on immediately.
15. Wish Denied
Williams improvised most of the Genie’s lines, which resulted in the Aladdin script being rejected by the Academy for Best Adapted Screenplay.
14. Heeeeeeere’s Robin!
Williams was considered for the lead role in The Shining, but after seeing “Mork & Mindy,” Stanley Kubrick rejected the idea because Williams was “too psychotic.”
Williams invented the word “Shazbot,” an alien curse word uttered by Mork during the opening credits. The word has wound its way through popular culture, having found its way onto The Simpsons, the Tribes series of videogames, and as the last recorded words of AC/DC singer Bon Scott.
12. E’s Off the Twig
Williams was a huge fan of Monty Python and, after his death, one of the Python members, Michael Palin, paid tribute to Williams, saying that performing with him “would have been like being invited to play in a jazz band where you couldn’t play an instrument.”
11. Having a Ball
Robin was a big fan of cycling and trained with Lance Armstrong. He even rode shotgun in the Armstrong team car at a few of his races.
10. All Ears
Williams got into a feud with Disney after he discovered they were using his voice as the Genie to sell Aladdin merchandise, something he had told them he refused to do. To placate him, Disney sent him a Picasso painting, believed to be worth a million dollars, where Picasso painted his self-portrait as Vincent Van Gogh. Because when Disney apologizes, they apologize hard.
9. Crystal Clear
Williams and good friend Billy Crystal appeared in an unscripted cameo at the beginning of an episode of Friends. They just happened to be in the building where the show was shooting and they improvised their entire scene.
8. Where’s the Beef?
Williams owned a vineyard in California. Joking about it, he said it was “weird,” like “Gandhi owning a delicatessen.”
7. Can’t Buy Me Love
While he earned only $75,000, the Screen Actor’s Guild minimum, for his voice work in Aladdin, a film that will be remembered forever, Williams also earned a whopping $20 million dollar paycheck for the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, a movie that nobody remembers at all. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere but we have no idea what it is.
6. Laughing All the Way to the Bank
Williams once had two movies reach $100 million in box office receipts within the same week. The movies were “Jumanji” and “The Birdcage.”
5. For the Troops
Despite opposition to the war in Iraq, Williams was one of the most consistent entertainers for the U.S. troops since the war began, leading some people to christen him the new Bob Hope. Although perhaps Bob Hope was just the old Robin Williams.
4. Have You Tried StubHub?
On a 2001 episode of “Inside the Actors Studio,” James Lipton interviewed Williams and asked what he would like to hear God say to him if he entered Heaven. His answer was: “There’s seating near the front. The concert begins at five, it’ll be Mozart, Elvis, and one of your choosing.”
3. The Crowd Popped
Also, during Williams’ appearance on “Inside the Actors Studio,” he made an audience member laugh so hard that he gave them himself a hernia.
2. Not Empty-Handed
Williams decided to test the believability of his Mrs. Doubtfire costume by walking into a sex shop, dressed as the nanny, and buying something. He managed to ask the clerk some very specific questions involving a double-headed sex implement before they realized who he was and kicked him out. However, he did manage to successfully purchase scented lube.
1. Giving Back
Despite his fame, Williams always remembered how he struggled to achieve his successes so, to give back, he set up a scholarship fund for incoming Julliard students. One of its recipients was two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain. “Robin Williams changed my life,” she said. “His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed.”
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