Such terribly shocking and sad news came late yesterday afternoon: Robin Williams, dead at the age of 63, by apparent suicide.
A lot of us grew up watching Williams on “Mork & Mindy,” or laughed ourselves silly watching him on “Comic Relief” or any of his TV standup appearances, or were enchanted by his portrait of a mercurial, unconventional English teacher in “Dead Poets Society.”
Though Williams’ movie career was long and varied (and included an Academy Award, for “Good Will Hunting”), cinema could only capture the reckless genius of his standup persona in fleeting moments. Though he had a fondness for gentle, sweet sincerity on screen (best deployed, I think, in “Mrs. Doubtfire” or “Moscow on the Hudson”), my favorite Williams roles were those in which he found something darker in that persona: the lonely, creepy Wal-Mart employee in “One Hour Photo,” the wild-eyed kids’ TV character in “Death to Smoochy,” the quiet, frighteningly restrained murder suspect in Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia.”
But when I think of Williams, it’s not the movies that come to mind; it’s that wild freedom he had with just a microphone and an audience, no script. Watch him here on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” in 2001 — in which he basically does four minutes of standup before James Lipton finally gets a question in. Pure magic — and note the audience dissolving into helpless, happy laughter at every turn. Goodbye, Mr. Williams, and thank you for the laughter; you’ll be so very much missed.