Interviews


Robin Williams


Occupation: Actor, Comedian
Date of Birth: July 21, 1952
Place of Birth: Chicago, Ill., USA
Sign: Sun in Cancer, Moon in Leo
Relations: Wife: Marsha Garces; ex-wife: Valerie Velardi; kids: Zachary, Zelda, Cody
Education: Claremont Men's College, College of Marin, Juilliard School

 

PLENTY of people think Robin Williams is the funniest man alive, and when he launches into one of his trademark manic riffs, it's hard to disagree. It's only when he's locked into someone else's script that he occasionally misfires.

The only child of a wealthy Ford Motor executive, Williams amassed 2,000 toy soldiers in his parents' 30-room mansion as a kid. Trained in drama at Juilliard, he was a mime and a stand-up comic before starring as a loony alien in the '70s sitcom Mork and Mindy, a role that made him a household name. ("TV or not TV. Whether 'tis nobler to do kiddie crap at 8 o'clock or sweat my ass off in small clubs . . .")

While Williams was dazzling the nation with records, concerts, and TV appearances, his big-screen output was underwhelming: his first leading role was in Robert Altman's disastrous live-action Popeye, and while he redeemed himself somewhat in a decent adaptation of The World According to Garp, he was far more likely to turn up in mediocre comedies like The Survivors and Club Paradise. Indeed, Hollywood failed to put Williams' brilliant improvisational gifts to good use until Good Morning, Vietnam, which earned him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award in 1987.

But while his overall film output has continued to be erratic, he has shown surprising range, tackling dramatic as well as comedic roles, and turning in stellar performances in Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King. His work as the voice of the genie in Disney's animated Aladdin helped fuel that film's phenomenal, cross-generational success.

Privately, Williams has enjoyed his share of scandal. As if he needed extra energy, he reportedly snorted coke with John Belushi just before Belushi's 1982 death, and in 1986 he was sued for $6.2 million by an ex-girlfriend who claimed he infected her with herpes; Williams filed a counter-suit claiming the charges were false and she was trying to extort money from him. The case was settled in 1992, and the terms were not disclosed. After divorcing his first wife, Williams married his son's former nanny. He let her produce Mrs. Doubtfire, and she let him ham it up, and the result was a commercial blockbuster that further cemented his standing as Hollywood's most popular funnyman. His recent string of comedy hits  The Birdcage, Jack, Fathers' Day, and Flubber (a remake of the classic Disney comedy The Absent Minded Professor)  prove that he is not yet ready to relinquish his comedy crown to Jim Carrey, a fact made even more apparent when Entertainment Weekly named Williams the "Funniest Man Alive."

Williams achieved a critical pinnacle in his career by winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his restrained performance as a South Boston therapist in Gus Van Sant's 1997 charmer Good Will Hunting. He has since starred in a series of films, none of which have done much to fire the collective consciousness: Vincent Ward's visually lush drama What Dreams May Come, about a man killed in an automobile accident who searches for his wife in the afterlife, disappointed at the box office; Patch Adams, the true story of a physician who bucked the medical system by treating patients with humor therapy, was not what the doctor ordered; Jakob the Liar, about a ghetto-dwelling Jew who attempts to cheer his fellow comrades by fabricating news reports of Allied troops advancing on Nazi Germany, incited nothing but jeers; and Bicentennial Man, the story of a robot who longs to become human, proved to be so much predictable tripe.

Williams is set to star in The Interpreter, in which he'll play a man who takes a job as an interpreter and winds up mediating an international crisis. Pulling double duty as producer and star, Williams will then tackle the cyberthriller Rim and the biopic Damien of Molokai, an account of the Belgian priest who tended to members of a Hawaiian leper colony in the late 1800s.

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