Robin Williams, Comedic Master And Oscar Winner, Dies At 63

Aug 11, 2014
Originally published on August 11, 2014 8:07 pm

Robin Williams has died at the age of 63. Williams is remembered for his roles in TV and film — including a radio DJ in Good Morning Vietnam, an inspiring teacher in Dead Poet's Society and his Oscar-winning turn as a therapist in Good Will Hunting. Entertainment reporter Steve Zeitchik discusses Williams' legacy.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The comedy and entertainment world has lost one of its masters. Robin Williams has died. He was 63 years old. Among his many roles on film and television, he'll be remembered as the fast-talking radio DJ in "Good Morning Vietnam," the loveable Mrs. Doubtfire, the alien Mork in "Mork And Mindy," and the inspiring teacher in "Dead Poets Society."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEAD POETS SOCIETY")

ROBIN WILLIAMS: (As John Keating) I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.

SIEGEL: Williams won an Academy Award as best supporting actor in "Good Will Hunting." He was found unconscious and not breathing around noon today in his home in Tiburon, California. The Marin County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that it suspects the death to be a suicide. It said a comprehensive investigation must be completed. We're joined now by Steven Zeitchik who writes about movies for the Los Angeles Times. And Steven Zeitchik, when you think of the career of Robin Williams, what stands out most? What do you think he'll be remembered for most?

STEVEN ZEITCHIK: Well, it's interesting as you were saying, Robert, some of those films that I thought about - for every one you mentioned, I thought about three or four others that were equally worthy. And I think first and foremost just how prolific he was not just in comedy, which I think obviously was his kind of bread and butter - what he most enjoyed doing - but also drama. You know, you said "Good Will Hunting" and "Dead Poets Society." You can add "Awakenings" and really a whole host of other films in there that he showed not just his kind of protean comic persona, but also his melancholic and often dramatic one. And I think that other side of him is being celebrated now in the wake of his passing and rightly so.

SIEGEL: But what you've just referred to as his protean comic persona was quite remarkable. The man had a comic gift. It seemed like Mork could be from another planet sometimes.

ZEITCHIK: No question, and I think a lot of people were kind of shocked - I know (unintelligible) - from those early days on Mork where he started improvising. And, you know, some of the show-runners and the people working on the series were shocked at what he could do. And, you know, now I think we kind of take for granted not just him, but I think other personalities who are able to improvise either, you know, in a live setting or on a TV or film set. But it was not done nearly as much when he started, and I think in many ways he paved the way. I mean, you know, voices, characters, obviously mimicry as we saw with a lot of his stand-up specials. So protean is the word that comes to mind for me, and improvisation is another one - something that, again, a lot of people have now done in his - kind of followed in his footsteps. But I don't know if anyone's ever done it better. I don't know if anyone ever will do it better.

SIEGEL: Certainly an original - recently, we haven't seen quite so much of Robin Williams. I understand that there was a sequel to "Mrs. Doubtfire" in the works. He had a television sitcom called "The Crazy Ones" that I gather was not a big success. Was his star on the decline?

ZEITCHIK: Yeah, he seemed to have - look, I mean it's amazing you said "Mork And Mindy" first came on the air in 1978. That's - you know, even to take that - from that to "Good Will Hunting" which was 20 years later, is a pretty remarkable run. But I would say in the last 15 years he was working a little bit less. You know, he was - again, understandably - maybe slowing down a bit, but certainly did a lot of independent films. And I think when you go and look at kind of his filmography, you know, there were certainly movies - kind of, again, independent films that he'd done in the last number of years. He did have a few movies - not just "Mrs. Doubtfire," which was in development, but a few movies in the can. One movie coming up - a big - fortunately it was going to be a kind of romp of a film - is the new "Night At The Museum" movie in which he plays Teddy Roosevelt, a role he's had in the past in this series. And I just saw a trailer for it, and he looked very funny. So, he certainly had kind of taken on more supporting roles, more independent films, but not as much of the lead comic stuff that we knew from earlier in his career.

SIEGEL: Steven Zeitchik, thanks for talking with us.

ZEITCHIK: Thank you, Robert, I appreciate it.

SIEGEL: Steven Zeitchik who writes about movies for the Los Angeles Times was talking about Robin Williams who was found dead in his home in Tiburon, California today. It is a suspected suicide. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.