Early life of Robin Williams
Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Laura McLaurin (née Smith, September 24, 1922 – September 4, 2001), was a former model from New Orleans, Louisiana. His father, Robert Fitzgerald Williams (September 10, 1906 – October 18, 1987), was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company in charge of the Midwest region. His maternal great-great-grandfather was Mississippi senator and governor Anselm J. McLaurin.Williams’ ancestry includes English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, German, and French. He was raised in the Episcopal Church (while his mother practiced Christian Science). He grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he was a student at the Detroit Country Day School, and later moved to Woodacre, Marin County, California, where he attended the public Redwood High School. Williams studied at Claremont McKenna College(then called Claremont Men’s College). In-between Claremont and Juilliard, he attended the College of Marin for theatre. He has two half-brothers: Todd (who died August 14, 2007) and McLaurin.
Williams has described himself as a quiet child whose first imitation was of his grandmother to his mother. He did not overcome his shyness until he became involved with his high-school drama department.
In 1973, Williams was one of only 20 students accepted into the freshman class at the Juilliard School, and one of only two students to be accepted by John Houseman into the Advanced Program at the school that year, the other being Christopher Reeve. In his dialects class, Williams had no trouble mastering all dialects quickly. Williams left Juilliard in 1976.
After appearing in the cast of the short-lived The Richard Pryor Show on NBC, Williams was cast by Garry Marshall as the alien Mork in the hit TV series Happy Days after impressing the producer with his quirky sense of humor when he sat on his head when asked to take a seat for the audition. As Mork, Williams improvised much of his dialogue and physical comedy, speaking in a high, nasal voice. Mork’s appearance was so popular with viewers that it led to a spin-off hit television sitcom, Mork & Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982; the show was written to accommodate Williams’ improvisations. Although he played the same character as in his appearance in Happy Days, the show was set in the present day, in Boulder, Colorado, instead of the late 1950s in Milwaukee. Mork was an extremely popular character, featured on posters, coloring books, lunchboxes, and other merchandise.
Starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Williams began to reach a wider audience with his standup comedy, including three HBO comedy specials, Off The Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1982), and Robin Williams: Live at the Met (1986). Also in 1986, Williams co-hosted the 58th Academy Awards.
His stand-up work has been a consistent thread through his career, as is seen by the success of his one-man show (and subsequent DVD) Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (2002). He was voted 13th on Comedy Central‘s list “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time” in 2004.
Williams, along with Billy Crystal, appeared in a cameo together at the beginning of an episode of the third season of Friends. Both Williams and Crystal’s parts were not originally in the script. They were apparently in the building where the show was shooting and were asked to improvise their lines. Williams appeared on an episode of the American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Season 3, Episode 9: November 16, 2000). During a game of “Scenes from a Hat”, the scene “What Robin Williams is thinking right now” was drawn, and Williams stated “I have a career. What the hell am I doing here?” On December 4, 2010, he appeared with Robert De Niro on Saturday Night Live in the sketch What Up with That. In 2012, he guest starred as himself in two FX series, Louie and Wilfred.
In February 2013, the CBS network announced it had picked up a pilot episode for a David E. Kelley comedy called The Crazy Ones that stars Williams. The series was officially picked up on May 10, 2013. Williams plays Simon Roberts, a father who works with his daughter (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) in an advertising office. The series premiered in the Thursday 9/8c timeslot on September 26, 2013.
Most of Williams’ acting career has been in film, although he has given some performances on stage as well (notably as Estragon in a production of Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin). His first film was the 1977 comedyCan I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses? His performance in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) resulted in Williams being nominated for an Academy Award. Many of his roles have been comedies tinged with pathos.
His role as the Genie in the animated film Aladdin (1992) was instrumental in establishing the importance of star power in voice actor casting. Williams used his voice talents again in Fern Gully, as the holographic Dr. Know in the 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, in the 2005 animated film Robots, the 2006 Academy Award-winning Happy Feet, and an uncredited vocal performance in the film Everyone’s Hero. He was also the voice of The Timekeeper, a former attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort about a time-traveling robot who encounters Jules Verne and brings him to the future.
Williams’ roles in dramatic films have garnered him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting. as well as two previous Academy Award nominations: for playing an English teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989), and for playing a troubled homeless man in The Fisher King (1991). That same year he played an adult Peter Pan in the movie Hook. Other acclaimed dramatic films includeAwakenings (1990) and What Dreams May Come (1998). In the 2002 film Insomnia, Williams portrayed a writer/killer on the run from a sleep-deprived Los Angeles policeman (played by Al Pacino) in rural Alaska. Also in 2002, in the psychological thriller One Hour Photo, Williams played an emotionally disturbed photo development technician who becomes obsessed with a family for whom he has developed pictures for a long time.
In 2006, Williams starred in The Night Listener, a thriller about a radio show host who realizes that a child with whom he has developed a friendship with may or may not exist; that year, he starred in five movies, includingMan of the Year, was the Surprise Guest at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and appeared on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that aired on January 30, 2006.
Williams is known for his improvisational skills and impersonations, and his performances frequently involve impromptu humor designed and delivered in rapid-fire succession while on stage. According to the Aladdin DVD commentary, most of his dialogue as the Genie was improvised.
At one point, he was in the running to play the Riddler in Batman Forever until director Tim Burton dropped the project. Earlier, Williams had been a strong contender to play the Joker in Batman. He had expressed interest in assuming the role in The Dark Knight, the sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, although the part of the Joker was played by Heath Ledger, who went on to win, posthumously, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He was portrayed by Chris Diamantopoulos in the made-for-TV biopic Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy (2005), documenting the actor’s arrival in Hollywood as a struggling comedian.
Disputes with Disney
In gratitude for his success with the Disney-produced Touchstone film Good Morning, Vietnam, Williams voiced the Genie in the Disney animated film Aladdin for SAG scale pay ($75,000), on condition that his name or image not be used for marketing, and his (supporting) character not take more than 25% of space on advertising artwork, since Toys was scheduled for release one month after Aladdin’s debut. Additionally, Williams believed the character’s voice was his property and did not want it to be imitated. The studio went back on the deal on both counts, especially in poster art by having the Genie in 25% of the image, but having other major and supporting characters portrayed considerably smaller. Disney’s Hyperion book, Aladdin: The Making Of An Animated Film, listed both of Williams’ characters, “The Peddler” and “The Genie”, ahead of main characters but was forced to refer to him only as “the actor signed to play the Genie”.
Williams and Disney had a bitter falling-out, resulting in Dan Castellaneta voicing the Genie in The Return of Jafar and the Aladdin animated television series. Castellaneta was also hired for the feature Aladdin and the King of Thieves and had completed recording all his lines. When Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired from Disney and replaced by former 20th Century Fox production head Joe Roth (whose last act for Fox was greenlighting Williams’ film Mrs. Doubtfire), Roth arranged for a public apology to Williams by Disney. Williams agreed to perform in Hollywood Pictures‘ Jack, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and even agreed to voice the Genie again for the King of Thieves sequel (for considerably more than scale), replacing all of Castellaneta’s dialogue.
When Williams re-teamed with Doubtfire director Chris Columbus for Touchstone Pictures’ Bicentennial Man in 1999, Disney asked that the budget be cut by approximately $20 million, and when the film was released on Christmas Day, it flopped at the box office. Williams blamed Disney’s marketing and the loss of content the film had suffered due to the budget cuts. As a result, Williams was again on bad terms with Disney, and Castellaneta was once again recruited to replace him as Genie in the Kingdom Hearts video game series and the House of Mouse TV series. The DVD release for Aladdin has no involvement whatsoever from Williams in the bonus materials, although some of his original recording sessions can be seen.
Williams has done a number of stand-up comedy tours since the early 1970s. Some of his most notable tours include An Evening With Robin Williams (1982), Robin Williams: At The Met (1986) and Robin Williams LIVE on Broadway (2002). The latter broke many long-held records for a comedy show. In some cases, tickets were sold out within thirty minutes of going on sale.
After a six-year break, in August 2008 Williams announced a brand new 26-city tour titled “Weapons of Self Destruction”. He was quoted as saying that this was his last chance to make cracks at the expense of the current Bush Administration, but by the time the show was staged only a few minutes covered that subject. The tour started at the end of September 2009, finishing in New York on December 3, and was the subject of an HBO special on December 8, 2009.
In theatre, Williams has headed his own one-man show, Robin Williams: Live on Broadway, that played at The Broadway Theatre in July 2002. He made his Broadway acting debut in Rajiv Joseph‘s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 31, 2011. He previously appeared opposite Steve Martin at Lincoln Center in an Off-Broadway production of Waiting for Godot.