Arts | Robin Williams: A Look Back

American actor Robin Williams has died aged 63 at his home in California. His death is been treated by police as an apparent suicide. Leeds Student takes a look back at the life of this influential actor.

It’s difficult to write an obituary for a man like Robin Williams, who had such a profound impact on the world around him yet passed away in the most tragic circumstances. In a career spanning over thirty years and across the whole spectrum of genres, he was a seemingly constant iconic figure of popular culture. Many students will have grown up knowing him as The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, or as the cross-dressing nanny trying to reconnect with his kids in Mrs. Doubtfire, yet he wasn’t just an incredible comedic talent, he was also an accomplished dramatic actor. Films such as One Hour Photo, Insomnia and Good Will Hunting showcased how profoundly talented he really was.

Williams began his career in television, playing the alien Mork in cult comedy ‘Mork & Mindy.  He later became a mainstay of the American stand-up circuit, known for his brilliant improvisation skills and impressions. In 1987 he received his first Academy Award nomination for Good Morning Vietnam, where much of his character’s radio broadcasts were improvised by Williams himself. Two years later he portrayed John Keating in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets’ Society and received another Oscar nomination for his stand-out performance. In 1991 he was again nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King as a delusional homeless man, whilst also appearing in Steve Spielberg’s Hook as Peter Pan, demonstrating perfectly the acting range that he had.

The nineties were defined by a series of Williams-fronted comedies, from Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire to Jumanji and Flubber. In 1997 he received his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for Good Will Hunting, in a performance many consider one of his finest. The year after he portrayed Dr. Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams in a biopic which whilst not received well by critics was a box office success. In 2002 he appeared in two thrillers, One Hour Photo and Insomnia, again illustrating his incredible range that meant he could not be pigeonholed as an actor.

In later years Williams became known to a whole new generation as Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum and its sequels, and for his roles in penguin-based animated comedy Happy Feet. With three films released in 2013 and four in 2014, he remained a huge box office draw and one of the most productive actors in Hollywood. His final project, Terry Jones’ comedy Absolutely Anything will be released next year.

Williams battled depression and addiction throughout his life, and spoke candidly about his struggles. In the 1970s and 80s he had a severe cocaine problem, and it was the death of close friend John Belushi as well as the birth of his son Zak that moved him to get sober. After a relapse into alcoholism, he checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in 2006. In summer 2014 he checked back into rehab to maintain his commitment to sobriety. Williams was an advocate for the off-beat, and a firm believer that to be different is to be human. He once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

His death comes as a shock to many who knew him only as an irreverent funny man who could always raise a smile and produced some of the best loved comedic characters in Hollywood history. He refused to let his darkness define him and touched the lives of countless individuals, many of whom he never met. It is heartbreaking to think that a man who dedicated his life to making other people laugh struggled so much with his own demons. The world is undeniably worse off for the loss of this incredible actor and inspiring human being.

If you are struggling with depression, please remember that help is always available. Please contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

In term time, you can speak to the university’s team of dedicated volunteers at Night Line, between 8pm and 8am on 0113 380 1381.

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