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WILLIAMS, ROBIN
(1951-2014). American actor.

IMDB credits One of my unfortunate duties in writing this encyclopedia is to speak ill of the dead—because somebody has to, to guide future filmgoers who will need to distinguish between performers worth watching and performers more wisely ignored. And there is a sad truth to convey about Robin Williams: while it may be true, as a recent documentary emphasized, that he was a warm wonderful person, he was also a comic actor who wore out his welcome very quickly.  One simply grows weary of his style of comedy—high-energy, nonstop, mostly improvised babbling—particularly since the comic misses tend to outnumber the hits as he proceeds; in this respect, he is very much like the comedian he unwisely emulated, Jonathan Winters, whose own eventually tedious antics largely limited his television career to guest appearances on other people's shows. Williams proved more successful, in large part, because he was encouraged to shift to serious acting, when he could be better tolerated.

To be sure, the comedian Williams can be initially funny—which is why his television series Mork and Mindy (1978-1982) was initially quite popular—and he can thrive in secondary roles, where he is never the center of attention, as was the case with what was arguably his greatest triumph, providing the voice of the Genie in Walt Disney's animated Aladdin (1992).  But his television series steadily became less and less unappealing, and its fourth season—which crazily married Mork to Mindy and introduced Winters as their overgrown child—is absolutely unwatchable, despite my best efforts.

By the time Mork and Mindy was in its death throes, however, Williams had luckily moved on to making movies, beginning with the disastrous musical Popeye (1980) , a role he could never figure out how to play (and he received no help from his equally clueless director, Robert ALTMAN). But this sin was forgiven, and he was soon starring in more effectively in realistic comedies. But Williams could be fully restrained only when given dramatic roles, which he uncoincidentally was being offered more and more frequently. And Hollywood then pronounced serious acting to represent Williams's true strength, as he received Oscar nominations for three such performances and finally won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting (1997). But in fact, his acting was competent but dull, and any number of actors might have done just as well in films like the afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998) and One Hour Photo (2002). And it was hard to overlook several disasters in the making that he was unable to rescue, most notably Steven Spielberg's ill-conceived redaction of the Peter Pan story, Hook (1991), the clumsy Bicentennial Man (1996), and the remarkably unamusing Death to Smoochy (2002).

Indeed, if asked to organize a film festival to demonstrate his talents, I might focus primarily on his cameo performances, since he is best appreciated in small doses. My choices would include his King of the Moon in Terry GILLIAM's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), his John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), his voice for Doctor Know in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), and especially his three surprisingly sparkling performances as Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum (2006), Night at the Museum:  Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), and Night at the Museum 3 (2014).

While he earned huge sums of money during his two decades of peak popularity, Williams clearly did not manage his money well, and with his career in decline, and facing mounting alimony expenses, he was understandably depressed to find himself finally obliged to agree to a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)—which, given its unimpressive precursor, would surely have proved an artistic and financial failure. But suicide, that permanent solution to his temporary problems, was only the last of Williams's many bad decisions.

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