Cast in the spin off from Happy Days, Williams was unknown in 1978 so given the delay in airing the series in the UK, I can’t really have been aware of him much before 1980, but to me he was a quirky, whitty ever present feature in my childhood.
With Pam Dawber in Mork and Mindy, his off the wall mischievous ability to add-lib was clearly given fairly extensive latitude. So unlike any other performers of this time, the producers of the programme said he was the only actual alien to turn up for the audition.
It’s probably a mark of an entertainer or a performer that they pass the ‘ I remember where I was when I heard’ test. Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Jack Lemmon all pass that for me and now Robin Williams is added to the list of those who’s death seems to rob me of something very personal.
For me the stripy jumpered Mork will always be associated with Sunday afternoons when it was first aired in the UK. For some time Williams was just the clown, the zany, ever performing live wire who had thousands of one liners and more energy than your average power station. Then as I grew older I saw him struggle and admit to issues with alcohol and substance dependence.
Along side that were some deeply touching and genuinely powerful acting roles that dispelled the image of the jobbing clown. Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society and Mrs Doubtfire had touches of deep pathos and real emotional insight. Less popular choices where I think I saw a momentary glimpse of the real man were Hamlet, The Birdcage and Insomnia. Even One Hour Photos (although a troubling and dislikeable film in my view) showed his bravery and real talent.
His star had certainly faded in recent years. The comic who could do no wrong and who’s mind travelled at warp speed had faded to a parody of a jaded comic on Family guy – something unimaginable and somehow hurtful for those of us who remember him at his zenith.
Even now the questions have started to be asked and reasons put forward for his apparent suicide. An alleged struggle with Parkinson’s disease, the suggestion of the risk of bankruptcy and the re-emergence of the well known battle against depression have been raised as contributing factors.
For me – none of those matter or diminish his gift and his curse which was to be an incredibly private and gifted performer. Unable to switch off in public, perhaps unable to be himself – we, the audiences who lapped up the madness share part of the responsibility.
So today, despite the news of unrest in the middle east, Ebola spreading in west Africa and many other more ‘serious’ news stories it is the death of Robin Williams that dominated the day and my thinking. An incredible talent and undoubtedly a vulnerable personality. It’s too easy to say we won’t see someone else like him (and often obviously untrue) … but in this case, it may just be accurate.
Nanoo Nanoo !