Robin Williams biography

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Robin Williams biography

Actor, comedian, producer. Born July 21, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois. Williams spent his childhood years in Chicago and Bloomfield, Michigan; his father was an executive at Ford Motor Company. Upon his father’s early retirement, the family moved to Marin County, California, near San Francisco. Williams dropped out of his political science studies at Claremont Men’s College in Claremont, California, to begin studying drama at the Juilliard School in New York City. Back in the San Francisco area, he began performing as both a mime and a stand-up comedian on the burgeoning West Coast comedy club circuit.
Williams had a good deal of success with stand-up during the 1970s, including a stint at Los Angeles’ Comedy Store in his own showcase. After performing on the revival of the Laugh-In series in 1977-78, Williams landed a guest role on the popular sitcom Happy Days as Mork, a lovably weird space alien from the planet Ork. Before too long, he had brought the character to his own spin-off sitcom, Mork + Mindy (1978-82), which costarred Pam Dawber as the female earthling with whom Mork falls in love and Jonathan Winters as a fellow alien.

With a successful sitcom under his belt, Williams also brought his talents for improvisation and stand-up comedy to cable television, headlining two Home Box Office (HBO) comedy specials, An Evening with Robin Williams (1982) and Robin Williams: Live at the Met (1986). In 1986, he joined fellow comics Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg in hosting HBO’s annual Comic Relief telecast, which donated all funds raised to helping the homeless.

Despite Williams’ undeniable success among audiences with his television work and stand-up comedy, his film career got off to a somewhat slower start. He made his film debut in the title role of a disappointing live-action version of Popeye (1980), directed by Robert Altman. Though he earned acclaim for his performances in a film version of John Irving’s The World According to Garp (1982) and the well-reviewed Moscow on the Hudson (1984), he also starred in less inspiring projects such as The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), and The Best of Times (1986).

In 1987, Williams made the leap to the Hollywood A-list with his Oscar-nominated performance in Good Morning, Vietnam, Barry Levinson’s comedy-drama about an irreverent deejay assigned to a radio station for the U.S. Armed Services in Vietnam.

Even on the set of a movie, Williams’ improvisational skills became famous, and he was known for ad-libbing many a scene. Billed as Ray DiTutto, Williams turned in another funny performance in the somewhat bizarre The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), written and directed by Terry Gilliam.

Williams earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1989, for his performance as John Keating, the inspirational prep-school teacher at the heart of Dead Poets Society. In 1990, he starred as a doctor who treats a catatonic patient (Robert De Niro) in the acclaimed drama Awakenings, directed by Penny Marshall. On a less serious (and less successful) note, he played Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), a notorious big-budget flop which costarred Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts. Williams reunited with Terry Gilliam to score his third Best Actor nod from the Academy in 1991 for The Fisher King, also starring Jeff Bridges. He delighted children and adults alike by lending his unmistakable voice to an animated blue genie in Disney’s blockbuster hit Aladdin (1992). Although his second effort with Levinson, Toys (1992), received a mediocre welcome from critics and audiences, he had his biggest (live-action) commercial success yet with the 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire, in which he played a divorced father who dresses up as a female housekeeper in order to spend time with his children. The film, which Williams coproduced, was directed by Chris Columbus and costarred Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan.

Williams’ next big hit came three years later with The Birdcage (1996), a remake of the classic 1978 La Cage aux Folles costarring Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman. In between, he had moderate success with the adventure film Jumanji (1995) and turned in a cameo as a befuddled doctor in Nine Months (1995), starring Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore. Also in 1996, he starred in the disappointing Jack, about a boy who ages physically at an unnatural rate, and turned in his first Shakespearean performance as Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s epic Hamlet. Though his teaming with Crystal in Father’s Day (1997) met with disappointing results, Williams scored a hit that year with Flubber, Disney’s remake of its 1961 hit The Absent Minded Professor.

He achieved a critical coup that year as well, winning his first Academy Award—for Best Supporting Actor—for his restrained performance in Good Will Hunting, costarring Matt Damon, Minnie Driver, and Ben Affleck.

Though his most recent efforts—including What Dreams May Come (1998), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob the Liar (1999), and Bicentennial Man (1999)—have met with a relatively disappointing critical and commercial reception, Williams remains an unusual commodity in Hollywood: a talented comedic actor who can also deliver sincere, affecting dramatic performances. Upcoming projects include The Interpreter (2000), directed by Mrs. Doubtfire’s Columbus.

Williams has made his share of headlines for his personal life, beginning early in his career, when he was reputed to have had a cocaine habit, and to have snorted cocaine with comic John Belushi just before the latter’s death of an overdose in 1982. In 1986, Williams was sued for $6.2 million by a former girlfriend who alleged he had given her herpes. He countersued for extortion. The case was later settled out of court, and the terms were undisclosed. Williams and his first wife, Valerie Velardi, divorced in 1988 after a decade of marriage; he subsequently married Marcia Garces, who had worked as a nanny for his son Zachary. He and Garces have two children, Zelda and Cody. Garces is also Williams' partner in a production company, Blue Wolf Productions. .

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