Robin Williams: Biography

Photo Credit: Lionsgate
October 9th, 2013

Robin Williams: Biography

Robin Williams is a difficult man to pin down. In several of his most renowned works, he plays characters that are hiding important aspects of themselves. Although Williams is one of Hollywood's most versatile chameleons, his life story reveals an authentic talent and a man who worked hard to get to the top.

Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 21, 1951. Growing up, Williams learned humor the hard way. He was often a target for other kids. To overcome the bullying, Williams turned to the track and wrestling teams to gain confidence. More importantly, Williams also learned how to use his natural wit to disarm potential bullies.

As a young adult, Williams moved to California, where he enrolled at the Claremont Men's College. Though he was originally interested in political science, it didn't take long for Williams to realize that improv classes brought out the best in him. Before long, Williams had won a scholarship to Juilliard School.

In New York City, Williams studied with John Houseman. He also became close with a fellow aspiring actor, Christopher Reeve. Williams was especially interested in comedy. His unique brand of humor involved slapstick physical comedy and a prolific use of accents. After building a name for himself on the West Coast as a stand-up comedian, Williams met producer Gary Marshall. Williams' unapologetic zaniness won him a role as an alien on an episode of "Happy Days."

Audiences approved of Mork from planet Ork. In 1978, a new show appeared. In "Mork & Mindy," Williams had a chance to show off his improvisational skills to the world. He received a Golden Globe award in 1979. His extraterrestrial character launched Williams among the stars. Before long, the comedian was portraying one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. As Popeye, Williams showed off his strength as a comic actor. However, the offbeat "Popeye" (1980) was not successful with critics or audiences.

Perhaps due to harsh reviews, Williams wouldn't try his hand at films again for several years. He then played a more dramatic role in "The World According to Garp" (1982). During this period, Williams' personal life took a hit. Caught up in the fast-paced world of entertainment, Williams struggled with substance abuse. While he was fighting his own personal demons, Williams also had to contend with a string of relatively unsuccessful films.

The war comedy "Good Morning Vietnam" (1987) landed Williams a second Golden Globe award, proving to himself and to critics that his talents as an actor were evolving. He was also nominated for an Academy Award. Following this, Williams starred in Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988). In 1990, he appeared in a more serious role. Williams starred as a teacher with unorthodox ideas in "Dead Poets Society" (1990) garnering yet another Oscar nomination.

From this point on, Williams tackled both serious and comedic roles with panache. In 1990, he played an innovative doctor in "Awakenings" (1990). Working once again with Gilliam, Williams took on a challenging role in "The Fisher King" (1991). In "Hook" (1991), Williams played the grown-up version of Peter Pan.

As the voice of Genie in Disney's animated "Aladdin" (1992), Williams' high-energy improvisation was on dazzling display. But his biggest role was still to come. "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993) stars Williams as a man who pretends to be a homely housekeeper, all in a ploy to get back with his estranged family. The film was a box office smash.

Hit after hit followed. Williams was lost in a mysterious board game in "Jumanji" (1995), portrayed a gay man posing as a conservative straight man in "The Birdcage" (1996), and played a little boy trapped in an adult body in "Jack" (1996).

In 1997, Williams became a psychiatrist with a tough love approach in "Good Will Hunting." He landed an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Williams would later delve into darker roles in "Insomnia" (2002) and "One Hour Photo" (2002). He has played a comedic version of Theodore Roosevelt in "Night at the Museum" (2006) and a more serious interpretation of Dwight D. Eisenhower in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013). Other major films include "The Night Listener" (2006), "Happy Feet" (2006), and "World's Greatest Dad" (2009). Williams has stayed active as a Broadway star, stand-up comedian, and TV star. In 2013, his sit-com, "The Crazy Ones," premiered on CBS.

Williams won a Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes ceremony in 2005, honoring his contributions to the entertainment world.

Williams married Valerie Velardi in 1978. They welcomed a son, Zachary, in 1983. After his divorce, Williams married Marsha Garces, who had worked as his assistant. Garces and Williams had two children together, Zelda and Cody, and eventually divorced. In 2011, Williams married Susan Schneider.