Here, the Zap2it team shares our favorite Williams scenes from his standup, his deeply emotional work, his comedic performances that shaped the senses of humor of so many children of the past 30 years — from “Dead Poets Society” to “Aladdin,” from “Mork & Mindy” to “An Evening At the Met.”
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“Mork & Mindy”
If you were a kid in the late ’70s, you either owned a T-shirt or lunch box that had Mork on it, or else you just walked around saying things like “Na-Nu, Na-Nu” and “Shazbot.” “Mork & Mindy” was huge — huge — in its first couple of seasons, finishing No. 3 on all of TV in its first year. The legions of kids who watched didn’t know about his decidedly adult stand-up comedy, but his antic presence as Mork cut right to the heart of what a lot of children found funny. Mork got to do all the crazy things we wished we could get away with and made being a grown-up — an alien grown-up, but still — look super fun.
Now, you can look back on “Mork & Mindy” and pick out moments where the script probably said “Robin riffs for a while.” Then, to a wide-eyed 8-year-old, it was something like magic. Take a look at what’s widely acknowledged as the show’s finest episode, “Mork’s Mixed Emotions,” with the full force of Williams’ comedic powers on display.
“An Evening At the Met”
Some of Robin Williams’ best standup revolved around his drug use. This NSFW clip, sampled from his famous 1986 “An Evening At the Met” performance, may be the smartest way to describe alcohol and drug use, and maybe perhaps, the saddest now too. It was also an eye-opener for those of us in the “Mork & Mindy” generation: “Mork” was so much funnier than we’d thought, and that was saying something. It seems Williams’ brain never turned off. See if you don’t find yourself quoting this long after you’ve watched it.
“Dead Poets Society”
“Dead Poets Society” is one of those movies that speaks to you. Especially if you see it at that perfect teen age of anticipation, confusion and dread that adulthood won’t live up to your expectations. Or, worse, that it will.
Before it was co-opted for an iPad Air commercial, Williams inspired a generation of English majors with his rousing speech about the importance of poetry.
Standup at The Comedy Store
There is nothing like seeing Williams’ raw talent showcased without all the bells and whistles of Hollywood — simply by himself, on a stage. One of the places Williams first honed his craft was the legendary Comedy Store, a place to which he was introduced by the equally talented Richard Pryor. Check out this rare footage of Williams hilariously describing to the Comedy Store audience the trials of dealing with life after his hit TV show “Mork and Mindy.”
“Good Morning, Vietnam”
“Good Morning, Vietnam” might not be the first movie people think of when Robin Williams comes to mind, but it’s among his best works. His version of real-life military radio personality Adrian Cronauer not only showed the Vietnam War in different light, but it proved just how cool DJs were. In watching Williams behind the microphone, you couldn’t help but want to be him, playing records and making soldiers laugh when they really needed it most. With his numerous USO tours to visit the armed forces, the same could probably be said about the comedian himself.
Plenty of children knew Robin Williams as the voice of Genie before they ever saw his face. He was the magical friend who could grant their deepest wishes — and then sing an amazing song about it. His booming voice and rapid-fire, hyperactive delivery made them and balanced out the terror I felt when Jafar held Aladdin captive. He was the real hero of that movie, constantly giving of himself to save his friends and calling them out when they were too selfish to acknowledge it. His bright humor and beaming blue face is a reminder that you ain’t ever had a friend like Genie.
“Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
Robin Williams was arguably the best guest star “Whose Line” ever had. He was simply amazing, as we all knew he would be. For once, it was a question of whether the regulars could keep up with the guest star instead of the other way around.
Is there any film greeting more perfect than Williams smashing his face into a frosted cake followed by a high-pitched “Helloooo”? “Mrs. Doubtfire” in particular is one example of how adept Williams was at inspiring both raucous laughter and heartfelt tears, often in the same movie. “Mrs. Doubtfire” was delightfully funny and incredibly heartwarming. Plus, it introduced a generation of children to his comedy genius. “You’ve got your cream and your sugar now. One drop or two?”
“Good Will Hunting”
Williams’ Oscar-winning performance as the counselor who gets through to Will Hunting was perfection from start to finish. But no single moment captures its beauty like the simple scene in which Sean tells Will about the legendary Red Sox game he missed just because he had to go see about a girl. Sean’s explanation of how the only regret would have been to miss that woman is pretty much everything about the love we all spend our lives seeking.
No one could pull off an adult Peter Pan quite the way Williams did in “Hook.” A seminal movie about childhood for children of the ’80s, the famed food fight scene is still an utter joy to watch 22 years after the film’s release. But nothing still makes our hearts melt like the scene where the Lost Boys realize Peter has grown old. There you are, Robin.