Robin Williams

On this date in 1951, actor and comedian Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago to model Laurie McLaurin and auto executive Robert Williams. He grew up in Bloomfield, Mich., and Marin County, Calif. He studied political science at Claremont McKenna College (then Claremont Men’s College), but left to study theater at a community college before receiving a full scholarship to the Juilliard School in 1973.

Scoring a guest role on the sitcom “Happy Days” in 1978, Williams gained instant recognition as the eccentric alien Mork. Following the success of “Mork and Mindy,” which aired for four seasons, Williams was catapulted into a long and illustrious career, beginning with major movie roles in “Popeye” (1980) and “The World According to Garp” (1982). His stand-up television specials included “Off the Wall” (1978), “An Evening with Robin Williams” (1982), “Robin Williams: Live at the Met” (1986) and “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” (2002).

He portrayed Oliver Sacks in the 1990 film drama “Awakenings,” based on Sack’s moving memoir about briefly reviving catatonic patients. Williams captured Sacks’ mannerisms so perfectly that Sacks notes some people have actually accused him of imitating Robin Williams. Other films included “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), “Dead Poets Society” (1989), “The Birdcage” (1996), “The Fisher King” (1991), “Hook” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992), “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), “Jumanji” (1995), “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “Flubber” (1997), “Insomnia” (2002), “Night at the Museum” (2006), “Happy Feet” (2006), “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009) and “The Butler” (2013). Williams starred in the off-Broadway production of “Waiting for Godot” (1988) and in the Broadway show “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” (2011).

Beyond bringing entertainment to millions, Williams aimed to bring provocative ideas into the public consciousness. His “War of Self-Destruction” tour in 2009 was rife with irreverent stabs at American politics, the Iraq War, religion and the papacy. “The Vatican and homosexuality: oil, water. The pope is always ‘homosexuality is an abomination.’ Timeout. … You’re dressed like Freddie Mercury’s stunt double. Your purse is on fire and you’re surrounded by hundreds of boys and you’ve had kind of a problem in the after school area.” (“Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.”) He was raised an Episcopalian, or as he quipped, “Catholic Lite — same rituals, half the guilt.” Williams took a critical stance on religious fundamentalism: “Fundamentalists take it to be ‘the Word,’ not translatable, not metaphorical, ‘the Word.’ In the beginning, Genesis, ‘Let there be Light.’ Could that be a metaphor for the big bang? ‘No! God just went click.’ “

After battling depression and drug addiction for many years, Williams took his own life by hanging in 2014. An autopsy revealed he had diffuse Lewy body dementia, which had been diagnosed as Parkinson’s. He was survived by his wife Susan Schneider (2011-14) and children, Zak, from his first marriage with Valerie Velardi (1978-88) and Cody and Zelda, from his second marriage to Marsha Garces (1989-2008). D. 2014. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation