When my sister lived in Europe in the 1980s, no one believed her when she said Robin Williams got his start playing a goofy alien on a television sitcom. Apparently the show that introduced so many of us to Williams’ comedic genius didn’t get much airplay on the Continent - but from 1978 to 1982, it brightened the television screens of countless American homes and lives.
Those are my earliest memories of Robin Williams - playing Mork from Ork, the silly alien banished to our planet under the guise of studying humanity because his sense of humor was not appreciated in his native culture. I think I even had a set of rainbow suspenders back then - or possibly I stole them from one of my teenage siblings, because I wanted to be like Mork.
He made us laugh and cry, sometimes in the same movie. From The Birdcage to Jumanji, Hook to Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams had a gift for making characters that might otherwise seem shallow or insincere come to life with a depth that must have made writers and directors weep with joy.
Even movies that never got much love from critics or fans (Toys comes to mind) were better than they might have been because of Williams’ performances.
And then there was his voice work – the astonishing genius that was the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin is entirely unforgettable, but let’s also not forget Robots and Happy Feet! Williams didn’t have to appear on screen to mesmerize audiences with his humor and flawless timing; his voice alone was more than enough.