Robin Williams who was a mass of pain, self-doubt – Book Review

Robin Williams

Robin Williams – In 1922, legendary comedian W.C. Fields had this to say about fellow comedian and vaudevillian (and Ziegfeld Follies co-star) Bert Williams when he passed away that year: He was the funniest man I ever saw, and was the saddest man I ever met.

Those remarks that was uttered by Fields nearly a century ago about Bert Williams can ironically be applied to another comedian sharing the same surname: Robin Williams.

During his productive career as a comedian and actor, Robin Williams has charmed and entertained millions of fans around the world with his manic, runaway train-style of stand-up comedy, his critically-acclaimed performances in such movies as Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin; and of course, the role that launched it all, that of the visiting alien from the planet Ork on the ABC hit sitcom Mork and Mindy.

Yet through all those memorable performances – and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting – Robin Williams lived a life that was filled with so much emotional and physical pain, whether it be endless self-doubt, a constant drubbing from critics, drug addiction and alcoholism, and finally, a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia – a severe degenerative neurological disease – that compelled him to take his own life in August of 2014 at the age of 63.

Robin Williams was, sadly enough, a living embodiment of the tragicomic nature of the comedian, yet he was such a complex individual as much as he was an entertaining one. However, it was his eldest son Zak who somehow managed to comprehend the true nature of his father at a memorial service that was held a little more than a month after his death:

Robin by David Itzkoff Book Cover-min

Eater of cold chicken breast, drinker of espresso, lover of bumper stickers. I’d like to speak about the man who was a paradox. The alien. I feel the overwhelming joy he brought millions, and I felt his abject loneliness. He was at once so superhuman and yet so very human. But I don’t think he ever felt he was anything special.

With the massive biography Robin by New York Times cultural reporter David Itzkoff, we finally get to crack that eggshell to discover the human and superhuman sides to the man who gave us Mork from Ork, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating and the Genie, with all the sadness and complexities that went with it.

To put it succinctly, Itzkoff has done an tremendous job of giving his many fans a much clearer picture of the public and private Robin Williams through contemporary press accounts and reviews, and countless interviews with friends, colleagues (within the comedy and film communities), surviving family members, as well as introspective interviews that Williams conducted with the press throughout his lifetime. The end result is probably one of the most deep biographical treatments of the comedian as tragic figure since Albert Goldman’s Ladies and Gentlemen – Lenny Bruce! and Bob Woodward’s John Belushi biography Wired.

Born a child of privilege (his father was a high-ranking executive at the Ford Motor Company), Williams decided early in life that a career in show business (particularly in comedy) was more preferable than being a lawyer. Through his studies at the prestigious Julliard School in New York (in which one of his classmates was the late Christopher Reeve), and then paying his dues as a street mime in San Francisco and as a manic, free form stand-up comic who became a must-see at the legendary Comedy Store (rainbow suspenders and all).

But it was in 1978 that Williams’ manic style of comedy made him a star: first in a guest shot as Mork in an episode of Happy Days called My Favorite Orkan, and then expanding the role that fall on the series Mork and Mindy, which he dominated until its run ended in 1982.

What Itzkoff argues is that the key reason Robin Williams became such a comedy superstar on Mork and Mindy and later in many of his best known starring movie roles was that the directors he worked with (especially Barry Levinson and Chris Columbus) gave him the necessary breathing room to allow him to improvise several scenes, and use the best routines in the final cut. However, Williams’ tendency to practice his wild style of improv comedy could at times be a detriment to the production he was working on, which was evident when he performed with Steve Martin on a Lincoln Center production of Waiting for Godot, which led to the production’s abbreviated run.

The book also paints a portrait of Robin Williams who was a mass of pain, self-doubt and chemical dependency, not to mention a man-child who revelled in his collection of toy soldiers and found pleasure in shopping for comic books, not to mention taking many critical pans of his later movies quite personally (especially his Broadway debut in 2011 in the serio-comic play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which although he gained the much-needed critical praise, was passed over for a Tony Award nomination).

Robin is probably the definitive biography of a man whos goal in life was to just make a lot of people laugh with his own brand of comedy. And through his stand-up specials, and memorable movie performances, Robin Williams became one of the most beloved comedians/comic actors of his time. Yet because of his delicate, fragile personal side, Robin Williams was like his showbiz namesake from a century ago: he was the funniest man you ever saw, and was the saddest man you ever met. But thanks to David Itzkoff’s fascinating book, you can readily understand why he was both.

Stuart Nulman
By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

Other articles from – –

Mtl Duct Cleaning
Over 18,000 homes caught fire due to blocked dryer vents

Mtl Duct Cleaning and dryer vent cleaning answering all your questions

Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa coming to Montreal – Tickets available

Is it possible to get an A for a 5-paragraph essay assignment in 1 hour? We can safely say yes, a student can get an A+ mark if he turns to EduJungles


The ultimate guide to planning a long family staycation in Canada

To guarantee that everyone has an amazing time, careful planning is necessary when organizing a lengthy staycation. Here’s the ultimate guide to planning your family staycation in Canada. Canada, with its vast landscapes, diverse cities, and rich cultural heritage, offers endless possibilities for a memorable family staycation. Whether you’re exploring the stunning natural beauty of

Meal kits

Cost vs. Convenience: Analyzing meal kits and traditional cooking

In this modern world and modern times, convenience often takes priority over cost, especially when it comes to food. Meal kits and traditional cooking represent two different approaches to home dining, and each of them has advantages and disadvantages. Analyzing these methods through the lens of cost and convenience provides insight into why individuals might

Condo renovations

Condo renovations Dos and Don’ts: Expert Tips for a Successful Project

Embarking on a condo renovations journey can be both exhilarating and daunting. Imagine transforming your living space into a stylish haven that reflects your personality and meets your needs. While exciting, the process can be full of challenges and unforeseen hiccups. That’s why we’ve gathered some condo renovation dos and don’ts from the experts to

Terrific Hair

Terrific Hair Means Tamanu – Earth to Body

Curly, straight, thick, thin, kinky or silky, tamanu loves and makes terrific Hair.  And scalps. Nutritionally dense yet gentle, tamanu is an effective and versatile nut oil. It stimulates, helps promote growth. prevents hair loss, reduces scalp itch and irritations and adds a natural sheen! Make tamanu a part of your hair and scalp care

Understanding the 4 legal process after a DUI Crash

A single mistake can have serious consequences, especially when driving under the influence. The aftermath of a DUI crash extends beyond physical harm and property damage. It involves a complex legal process that may feel overwhelming. As a responsible citizen, it’s vital to grasp the legal system and your rights in such situations. This blog

personal injury lawyer

Pedestrian accident: How a personal injury lawyer can help you

Accidents involving pedestrians can be life-altering. You could be walking down the street or crossing a street. A vehicle’s sudden impact can change everything right away. If you’ve found yourself in such a situation, you might be wondering how to move forward. This is where a personal injury lawyer steps in, offering crucial help and

Mtltimes Subscription

The latest on what’s moving Montreal and the world – delivered straight to your inbox