Robin Williams: The Legacy

“He has been battling severe depression of late.” Doesn’t seem like these should be some of the last words we hear about the legendary Robin Williams. Yet there was always something underneath his performances that let you know there was something melancholy hiding there. Some selfless thing that wanted to make the world a better place, to heal the system one person at a time.  His characters were the catalyst for bringing out the best in people around him. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting put aside his own demons to help Will. Genie in Aladdin was there to serve, yet deeply saddened by his own captivity. Whether it was Mork from Ork, Patch Adams or Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams poked fun at the human condition to make us feel better -often at his own expense.

Yesterday, the world lost a friend in Robin Williams. As we have talked about his life with our friends, we have realized how much Williams touched them;  he was more than an actor, he was a teacher. He allowed people he never met to see the best in themselves, and along the way, we got to laugh, which made all this words, actions, impressions, roles, and stand-ups all the more memorable. Today, we celebrate the life of the legendary Robin Williams by recounting our experiences with his different works. Rest in Peace.

Mork and Mindy (1978-1982)

Role: Mork from Ork

Na-nu Na-nu! Mork and Mindy was Robin Williams breakout role from 1978 and ran for four seasons. The show was a spin-off from Happy Days, where Mork made his first appearance and created to showcase Williams’ comedic genius. Mork was from Ork, a planet where humor was forbidden on the premise of observing human behavior and reporting back to his superior, Orson. Mork was a total innocent, technically advanced original geek living with a girl in Boulder, Colorado – long before it was cool. The first season the show was more about Mork discovering human and specifically American ways. Subsequent seasons became more about his romantic relationship with Mindy eventually introducing Jonathan Winters as their son hatched from an egg Mork laid (as Orkans age backwards). The show always ended with  insightful exchanges as Mork reported to Orson. One such exchange was Mork trying to explain loneliness: “when children are young, they’re told not to talk to strangers. When they go to school, they’re told not to talk to the person next to them. Finally, when they’re very old, they’re told not to talk to themselves. Who’s left?” — Kathy

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Role: Adrian Cronauer

Good Morning Vietnam is loosely based on the life of Adrian Cronauer a DJ with the Armed Forces Radio Network stationed in Saigon in 1965. He is charged with improving morale among the troops in Nam. He shakes things up at the station with his irreverent comedy and hip music (the soundtrack is pretty good, too). The troops love him and his superior hates him. The film came out in 1987, it took about that long before anyone could look back at Vietnam with anything resembling humor and it is a way funny film thanks to Williams mostly ad-libbing  his DJ spiel. Aside from stirring up things at the radio station he starts teaching American slang at an English language class for Vietnamese, falls for a local girl but gets nowhere except becoming friends with her brother who is consorting with the enemy. In the end, he leaves ’em smiling, making war a little less hell. — Kathy

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Role: King of the Moon

This may be a very short role and Williams was not even credited as himself for the role, but it was iconic to me as a massive Terry Gilliam fan for quite some time. Imagine that I turn on a film, I remember not understanding, but being fascinated with when I saw clips as a younger man. Once I grew up and watched the film again I was surprised to see the face of a man, literally just his face, that I had also grown to love and had seen most of his roles but this one. Immediately it made 100% sense to see Robin Williams in a Terry Gilliam film and that, on top of the fact that the movie is brilliant, made it an instant classic, which led into another Terry Gilliam film, The Fisher King, which also is an amazing performance by Robin Williams. — Jacob

Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

Role: John Keating

I find it very difficult to write about my feelings for the movie Dead Poet’s Society because they are so strong.  I first watched the film when I was a senior in High School.  My favorite English teacher showed the movie in his class, which was dedicated to the study of rebels.  That teacher, Mr. Moe, taught me that rebels didn’t have to do bad things to be rebellious; they just had to think for themselves.  Robin Williams character, John Keating, is a teacher who also taught his students at an all-boys prep school in the 50’s how to think for themselves.  Upon graduating, I, along with my classmates stood on our desks, saluted Mr. Moe, and declared “Oh Captain, My Captain” in honor of everything he taught us that year.  Today, I stand to Robin Williams and declare the same.  Thank you for teaching me, and the rest of the world, how to think for ourselves, work hard, and laugh. — Adrian

The Fisher King (1991)

Role: Parry

Another Terry Gilliam film except now Robin Williams was a main character along side Jeff Bridges. The story is of a broken down depressed DJ named Jack (Jeff Bridges) who ended up  influencing a madman to kill a large group of people in a bar. Jack ends up meeting a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams) who he takes under his wing and finds out Parry used to be a professor and went a bit crazy when his wife died in the shooting he had influenced. This is a great comedic and dramatic film combining both in a fantasy that only Terry Gilliam could envision. This is definitely an underrated film and is a testament to the talent of Robin Williams as an actor as he plays Parry in a way that makes you love, hate, and always be completely fascinated. This film also shows the true horrors that depression can do to people and sometimes what it takes to get them the help they need. — Jacob

Hook (1991)

Role: Peter Banning (Pan)

This film holds a very special place in my heart not only because it has been a favorite of mine since I was a child, but also because I was honored to have my first acting experience as a Lost Boy in my High School’s production based on the film. As a young boy, Peter Pan was one of my idols because I have never wanted to grow up, and some may say I never really have. But Hook was a magical film, one of those types that can embody a childhood in shorter than 2 hours. The fact that this film can not only give me good memories of my childhood, but teen years as well, guarantees this as a classic film for me. Robin Williams as Peter Pan is perfect To this day it is hard to envision anyone else whether young or old as Peter Pan. Bangarang! — Jacob

Aladdin (1992)

Role: Genie

You ain’t never had a friend like him. Genie easily stole the spotlight in Disney’s Aladdin and became the best wingman in history as he helps his master, Aladdin, get the girl of his dreams. Genie goes far beyond his listed job requirements, and asks for nothing in return but for Aladdin to consider setting Genie free with his last wish. What made Genie so lovable, aside from his devotion to his friends, was his frantic improvs. I mean, who could blame the guy from going off the handle? He’d had no contact in hundreds of years! Robin actually ad-libbed most of the film, too, so most of those lines are pure Williams gold. In the end, when Genie is granted his freedom, he still chooses to stick around with his loved ones, even with his semi-phenomenal, nearly cosmic power. — Sherif

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Role: Daniel Hillard / Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire is one of Robin’s most iconic roles, especially for anyone born in the 80’s. His face covered in pie frosting is fairly well engraved into anyone old enough to have seen this film in 1993. To me, it was more than the great film everyone else saw, but it was a film that really hit home as most stories with good fathers do.  Mrs. Doubtfire came out at a time when my dad was starting to really disappear from my life. But on top, of that Robin’s character of Daniel Hillard worked in animation, and ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be an animator. So to see him not only working in animation but also a Chuck Jones cartoon blew my mind as a child. It seriously impacted me in a huge way and made me look forward to being what he becomes by the end of the film to my own children, if I have any in the future.  I want to make sure and never abandon them or anyone as he did initially in the film and my own father did. But of course, Robin Williams turns out being a much better father, and overall person than almost any man I have come across. — Jacob

Jumanji (1995)

Role: Alan Parrish

Jumanji was a film that, as a child, held my imagination the whole time and made me think up so many great ideas. On top of that fact it may have made me a bit scared of turning into a monkey. Despite the craziness and death defying things that happen, you know you still wanted to play that board game more than anything in the world when you watched it, if not, that is sad. Robin Williams as the boy who turned old crazy jungle man who was trapped in the game for years is great. The character development from being a long bearded crazy man to an all together family man is one of the best performances of the time despite the non blockbuster children’s film.  But every role of Robin’s is a testament to his talents, despite whatever the subject and whatever the film he made, you enjoy it by him just being there.  This one just happens to be filled with great animals and some of the best graphics for the time. — Jacob

Jack (1996)

Role: Jack Powell

A far-fetched theme along the line of Tom Hanks’ Big, Jack is the story about a boy born with a disease that makes him age four times as quickly as a normal child. The movie is sold as a comedy, but there’s a good chance you will do just as much sobbing as you will laughing. As a ten year-old, the middle-aged Robin Williams is able to channel the innocence of a child, but still teach us more about growing up than puberty ever did. Outcast by kids for being different, Jack uses his unique skills as a pseudo-adult to woo the kids, but it is his kind heart that really made him loved. At the tender age of his tween years, Jack begins to face his own mortality – and does so with such maturity and grace, showing that our time on this Earth is precious. — Sherif

The Birdcage (1996)

Role: Armand Goldman

The Birdcage was released in the mid-90’s, but this was still a time when “out” gay characters were not often found, much less the starring roles.   Williams played Armand, the Jewish owner of a gay nightclub, The Birdcage.  He and Nathan Lane, who played his partner, Albert, play the comedic roles to perfection.  Perhaps more importantly, the film his highly acclaimed for not only portraying homosexual characters, but not making them caricatures.  I remember watching this movie with my grandmother when I was little and knowing that movie, especially because of Williams and Lane, were ahead of the time. — Adrian

Great Minds Think for Themselves (1997)

Role: Genie

Although this technically this is still his Genie character from Aladdin, the context of this Disney Channel featurette was far different. A play of words from the old saying “great minds think alike,” this mini-segment that aired during the commercials in the late 1990’s. Edutainment in its purest form, each episode of “Great Minds Think For Themselves” focused on a new revolutionary mind of the 20th century. The episodes ranged from the United States founding fathers Tomas Jefferson to musical pioneers like Louis Armstrong. His blend of improvisation and passion exuded into each segment, and made learning about historic figures without boring his audience – and on a Saturday morning, that is saying something. — Sherif

Flubber (1997)

Role: Professor Philip Brainard

Flubber was one of those movies that every kid in the 90’s loved.  It also made life easier for teachers because they could show the movie, and then afterwards the class got to actually make Flubber.  Best day of “science” class ever.  A remake of the 1961 film The Absent-Minded ProfessorFlubber follows Robin Williams, who played Professor Philip Brainard, a professor who is trying to save the college he works for and his engagement to his fiancee.  The film is very slap-sticky, but no doubt was of the most memorable movies for fans of Williams in my generation. — Adrian

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Role: Dr. Sean Maguire

Robin’s performance as Will Hunting’s psychiatrist is wildly the only role to win him an Academy Award – that is, until he receives his posthumous Lifetime Award (damn well better). As a widowed shrink charged with Matt Damon’s Will Hunting, Sean Maguire is taken aback when Hunting dissects Maguire’s life after seeing a painting in his office. The result is one of film’s greatest monologues, centered around showing Hunting that he may be a genius, but there is so much more to life than what we can presume about others. This becomes the turning point in the movie, because Hunting realizes that he must take charge of his life and utilize his gifts as a math genius. Maguire took so much abuse from Hunting, the amount of courage needed to keep caring for him was just inspiring. It’s not your fault, Robin. – Sherif

Patch Adams (1998)

Role: Patch Adams

Robin’s performance as the unorthodox doctor, Patch Adams resonated in me more than any of his other films. After enrolling in medical school, Adams rubs all his classmates the wrong way – none more so than the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Adams challenges the establishment to see that treatment is just as much a social science as it is a medical one, and challenges his colleagues to put prestige aside and pursue a degree in medicine for the love of helping people. This movie has become more relevant than ever when looking at today’s prescription drug-heavy society. Even after suffering great loss, the drive to help others drove Patch Adams back into the light and back into the fight. — Sherif

What Dreams May Come (1998)

Role: Dr. Christopher (Christy) Nielsen

This film went by largely unnoticed, but in light of his death, I imagine film buffs and Robin Williams fans alike will fall in love with this movie. The story follows Christy Nielsen’s tragic journey into the afterlife. After a car crash kills both of his children, he himself dies by a similar fate. In a morbid twist of fate, Christy’s wife commits suicide, and is sent to hell. The main story involves Christy’s journey to literally save his wife from the depths of hell and reunite his family in heaven. When Dreams May Come is an introspective look at the afterlife, and a love that transcends the boundaries of heaven and hell. — Sherif

Happy Feet (2006)

Role: Ramón and Lovelace

Happy Feet is one of those special movies that makes everyone happy; I mean it is in the title.  The story follows Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), a penguin who can’t sing like all the other penguins, but he can tap dance.  Robin Williams voiced two roles.  Ramón is a penguin who is a part of the “Amigos” penguin group, and the only penguins to accept Mumble as a dancer rather than a singer.  It is Ramón who helps Mumble try to woo a female penguin (voiced by Brittany Murphy) in a scene reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac, singing for Mumble.  Williams also voiced Lovelace, a penguin who has a plastic rings stuck around his neck.  He is the wise penguin who knows the most about humans.  In both these roles, Williams conveyed through his voice how important it is to be accepting of other no matter their differences. — Adrian

Night at the Museum (2006)

Role: Teddy Roosevelt

This may not be the best film of Robin Williams career, but it is by far one of my favorites, if not my favorite performance of his as far as quality. I never would have thought it, but if Robin Williams was given this role in a biopic of Teddy Roosevelt, you better believe he would have gotten a bunch of awards for it. In the Museum films everyone, does a great job with the character or actual historical person, and they are all a blast to watch. Robin Williams, though, takes on this role wholeheartedly and creates something that completely proves that this series is more than just a fun little history lesson, with immature humor and a very family friendly adventure kind of film. His portrayal to me is as accurate as you can get to one of the best presidents, and of course, the true definition of the bad ass we know as Teddy Roosevelt. Obviously, this isn’t the actual Teddy Roosevelt in the film and just a wax model, but Robin sure could have fooled me. — Jacob

Man of the Year (2006)

Role: Tom Dobbs

Right before the reign of the Bush administration was at an end, a wide margin of people had become fed up with both parties, and it seemed like the only logical choice was Daily Show host, Jon Stewart. Man of the Year is a fair portrayal of what it would be like if the people actually had a representative of the people to represent them. More than anything, Tom Dobbs had the winning spirit, but it all meant nothing if we cannot win the right way.  — Sherif

World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Role: Lance Clayton

This is by no means the best movie of Robin Williams’ career – even his best work in the last decade. Very morose in nature, World’s Greatest Dad tells the tale of Lance Clayton, a high school English teacher who finds his son dead, via autoerotic asphyxiation. Instead of leaving the scene, Lance stages his son’s death as a soul whose cry for help was never answered. Lance then brandishes a series of suicide notes to make all the children at school feel as though he was a kindred spirit, which attracts major publishers to get a hold of the work. World’s Greatest Dad is one father’s desperate attempt to save the image of his son, but at the cost of his own soul. It is especially morbid after Williams’ own death. — Sherif