Known for his legendary improvisation skills, Robin Williams was one of the most beloved comedians of his time.
Sadly, on August 11, 2014, Williams took his own life after losing a lifelong battle against depression and the illness 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.
Good Morning, Vietnam was the film that put Robin Williams on the map as a film actor, but it almost didn’t happen. After first being developed in 1979, the film was passed around for many years before it finally landed in Williams’ lap. After reading the script, he realized the movie would be the perfect platform for him to show the world what he was capable in terms of range.
It worked: Good Morning, Vietnam bagged him his first Oscar nomination.
42. Riddle Me This
Although the role eventually went to Jim Carrey, Robin Williams was originally offered the role of The Riddler in Batman Forever.
41. 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?!
40. Fat Camp
Williams has claimed that, when he was a child, he was quite overweight, shy, and nobody would play with him. As a result, he would entertain himself by talking in different voices. His first impression ever was of his grandmother, and he performed it to his mother.
39. Interesting Advice…
When Williams began training at the prestigious Juilliard School, he was told to focus more on his stand-up comedy rather than waste time in acting classes. Guess he eventually proved that professor wrong, too!
38. Strong, Silent Type
To make money as a struggling actor, Williams would perform on the street outside of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a mime.
37. Geographically Challenged?
Early on his career, Williams 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.
36. 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. Following the success of the episode, his character was then spun off into the hit series Mork & Mindy.
35. Maybe We’re the Ones Who Are Upside Down
During his audition for the role of Mork, famed producer Garry Marshall asked Williams to sit down for the interview. So Williams sat on his head. Marshall hired him almost immediately because, “He was the only alien who auditioned.”
In the late 70s and early 80s, Williams was heavily addicted to alcohol and other harder substances. It was the death of his friend John Belushi and the birth of his oldest son that finally convinced him to quit. In fact, the night before Belushi’s death, Belushi and Williams had been partying together. That would be a rude awakening, indeed.
33. I Yam Who I Yam
Williams had a bit of a rocky start on the road to fame. His major 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.
32. 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.
31. This Never Would Have Happened With Mrs. Doubtfire
After he and his first wife, Valerie Velardi, got divorced, Williams married his child’s nanny, Marsha Garces. For a long time, it was reported that Williams had begun an affair with Garces while he and Velardi were still together. However, in a recent documentary, Velardi revealed that the two had only gotten together after the marriage had ended.
30. Writing Skills
Williams was such a good improviser that the writers of Mork & Mindy would deliberately leave gaps in the screenplay for him to fill in. It soon became the Williams standard!
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 Juilliard. 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.
27. 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.
As he said, “At an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist, and that he had to examine me immediately…it was Robin Williams…for the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”
26. 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.
25. Legendary Daughter
Williams’ daughter Zelda was named after the eponymous video game character in The Legend of Zelda. Williams is a fan of role-playing games and video games, and The Legend of Zelda was a particular favorite of his whole family. Williams has three children in total: Zak, Zelda, and Cody.
24. Wish Granted
In order to woo Williams for the role of the genie in Aladdin, Disney animated and lip-synced the genie performing Williams’ own stand-up comedy. Williams was so impressed that he signed on immediately.
23. Wish Denied
Williams improvised most of Genie’s lines, which resulted in the Aladdin script actually being rejected by the Academy for Best Adapted Screenplay.
22. 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.” Can you imagine being called “too psychotic” for a role in The Shining?
Williams invented the word “Shazbot,” an alien curse word uttered by Mork. The word has wound its way through popular culture, having appeared on The Simpsons, the Tribes series of video games, and as the last recorded words of AC/DC singer Bon Scott. The song “Night Prowler” from AC/DC’s Highway to Hell was one of the last songs Bon Scott recorded before he died under mysterious circumstances, and the last lyrics of the song are two of Mork’s catchphrases, “Shazbot Nanu Nanu!”
Somehow this is both eerie and funny at the same time.
20. E’s Off the Twig
Williams was a huge fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus 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.”
19. A Film Full of Comedy Heroes
Absolutely Anything was the last film Williams would appear in. Released on the one year anniversary of his death in 2015, the comedy fulfilled a dream for Williams, as it was the first film to feature all of the surviving members of the legendary comedy group Monty Python since their 1983 film The Meaning of Life.
18. Final Time on Screen
While Absolutely Anything was Williams’ last film, only his voice was featured. The last movie he appeared in an onscreen role in was Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, where he reprised his fan-favorite role of President Teddy Roosevelt.
17. Having a Ball
Robin was a big fan of cycling, and credits the sport with saving his life after he sobered up and faced his depression head on.
16. Make a Wish
The Make-A-Wish Foundation was heavily involved in the filming of Patch Adams, and Williams and the entire cast made it a point to work and spend time with several sick children. These children would end up in the film as the kids Adams interacts with in the pediatric ward scenes.
15. 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 that had broken with his contract, as he said, “I don’t want to sell stuff. It’s the one thing I won’t do.” To placate him, Disney sent him a Picasso painting, worth a hefty sum, where Picasso painted his self-portrait as Vincent Van Gogh.
Because when Disney apologizes, they apologize hard.
14. 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.
13. Where’s the Beef?
Williams owned a vineyard in California. Joking about it in reference to his sobriety, he said it was “weird,” like “Gandhi owning a delicatessen.”
12. Can’t Buy Me Love
While he earned only $75,000, for his voice work in Aladdin, a film that will be remembered forever, Williams also earned a whopping $20 million paycheck for the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, a movie that nobody remembers at all. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I have no idea what it is. Nonetheless, Bicentennial Man ended up being his highest-paying role.
11. Laughing All the Way to the Bank
Williams joined elite company in 1996 with The Birdcage and Jumanji: these two films reached the $100 million-mark at the box office in the same week.
10. For the Troops
Despite his opposition to the war in Iraq, Williams was one of the most consistent entertainers for the US troops since the war began, leading some people to christen him as the new Bob Hope. Although perhaps Bob Hope was just the old Robin Williams.
9. Can’t Feel My Face
The famous scene of Mrs. Doubtfire where her face starts falling off was improvised, as the heat from the lighting of the scene accidentally started to melt the face off of Williams during filming. He just ran with it, giving us comedy cold.
8. Farts Are Funny
Williams ad-libbed the whole scene in Good Will Hunting where he describes his wife’s farts. That’s why Matt Damon is laughing so hard. Also, if you pay attention, you can notice the camera shake, perhaps because the cameraman is also laughing.
7. Have You Tried StubHub?
On an 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.” Robin wasn’t just known for his wit, but also for his incredibly quotable commentary on the world.
6. The Crowd Popped
Also, during Williams’ appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, he reportedly made an audience member laugh so hard that he gave them a hernia.
5. Not Empty-Handed
Robin 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 implement before they realized who he was and kicked him out. However, he did manage to successfully purchase scented lube.
4. Going to Bat
After his death, one of his Mrs. Doubtfire co-stars revealed a damning letter Robin Williams wrote, which was addressed to her school principal. Lisa Jakub, who played Lydia Hillard, was expelled from her school after she spent too long on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, and Williams reacted by sending an amazing and critical missive to the school’s administrator.
In it, he wrote that “a student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” and asked the administrator to reconsider the policy. What a class act.
3. A Powerful Inspiration
Everyone knows that Robin Williams had struggled with drugs and depression prior to his suicide, but most people don’t know that Bradley Pierce, one of his child co-stars from Jumanji, credited Williams with saving his life. He said that Williams had been a constant source of inspiration, motivating Pierce to talk openly about his own struggles with depression.
2. Robin Williams Gives Back
Despite his fame, Robin Williams always remembered how he struggled to achieve his successes so, to give back, he set up a scholarship fund for incoming Juilliard students. One of its recipients was Oscar favorite Jessica Chastain. “Robin Williams changed my life,” she has said. “His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed.”
1. A Touching Tribute
After the death of Robin Williams, Disney made a heartbreaking tribute to everyone’s favorite genie. Eric Goldberg, the supervising animator of the genie in Aladdin, drew an image of the genie alongside a heartfelt message after Williams’ passing. Disney CEO Robert Iger wrote on the illustration: “We’re deeply saddened by the loss of Robin Williams, a wonderfully gifted man who touched our hearts and never failed to make us laugh. An incredible actor and a comedic genius, Robin will always be remembered for bringing some of the world’s favorite characters to life, from his zany alien on ABC’s Mork & Mindy to the irascible genie in Disney’s Aladdin. He was a true Disney Legend, a beloved member of our family, and he will be sorely missed. We join Robin’s friends and fans everywhere in mourning, and offer our thoughts and condolences to his family during this difficult time.”
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