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Robin Williams, A Stand-up Act — On Stage, On Set And In Life


The voice, the mannerisms, the transformation into characters - Robin Williams was unparalleled. The Academy-Award-winning actor died today at the age of 63. The cause appears to be suicide. According to the Marin County Sherriff's Office in California, Williams was found unconscious and not breathing at his home in Tiburon, outside San Francisco. We're going to talk about the legacy Robin Williams leaves behind in a moment, but first, here's a reminder of his many roles over more than 40 years in show business.


ROBIN WILLIAMS: (As Mork) Last night when I was sleeping I had little talking pictures in my head.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You mean you had a dream?

WILLIAMS: (As Mork) Well, I know it wasn't a movie 'cause when I woke up there was no gum under my seat.


WILLIAMS: (As Adrian Cronauer) Good morning, Vietnam.


WILLIAMS: (As Mrs. Doubtfire) I do voices.


WILLIAMS: Yeah. Nancy and I are still looking for the other half of my head. Look at me right now, Money Penny.


WILLIAMS: (As John Keating) Oh captain, my captain. Who knows where that comes from?


WILLIAMS: (A Sean Maguire) My wife used to fart when she was nervous. (Laughing) One night it was so loud it woke the dog up.

SIEGEL: I'm joined by NPR's Linda Holmes who covers pop culture. And Linda, we heard clips there from "Good Will Hunting," "Dead Poets Society," "Aladdin," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Good Morning, Vietnam," and "Mork And Mindy." That's quite a range. As you look back on Williams' long career, what stands out for you?

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: What will stand out for me always about him is the stand-up which is how I really first came to be a huge fan of him as a teenager. I was obsessed with a live special that he did called "A Night At The Met," and probably memorized about half of it. The comedy, to me, despite his really successful later trips into dramatic acting - the comedy, to me, is always first.

SIEGEL: That was his start, in stand-up. He moved into television and film, but the ability to improvise stayed with him and was really a hallmark of his work all those years.

HOLMES: It really was. And it was when he became a comedy actor on television when he did "Mork And Mindy" which came out of an appearance on "Happy Days." His comedy was so limber and it was so spontaneous in feeling, and I think a lot of that grew out of being a stand-up.

SIEGEL: Also, several dramatic parts in movies - "Dead Poets Society," for example.

HOLMES: Yes, a movie that I also loved, that they filmed when I was in high school, and like a lot of people in high school at that time, I think really was personal to me, and I loved that performance.

SIEGEL: I gather that you saw him about a year ago when he was promoting the CBS show that he was in, "The Crazy Ones." What was he trying to do with the show, and what happened with it?

HOLMES: I think - you know, the show ultimately wasn't successful but I think what they were trying to do is build that comedy around him. He was a person who still was always somebody that you could say to people, hey, we're going to build a comedy around this guy and you're going to come and see him. And, you know, I think he was trying to do a good show. And you always got the sense that was his thing. I want to do a good show.

SIEGEL: He was such a unique talent. I just wonder, was he able to influence lots of other performers or was his gift just so unusual that it was Robin Williams?

HOLMES: It's hard to say 'cause comedy types have always existed. There have always been sort of broad comedians and arch comedians, but he - I think that high energy that he did I think probably was an influence on guys like Jim Carrey. It's always hard to tell. He was really, really unusual talent.

SIEGEL: The suspicion of suicide by asphyxiation by the coroner's office or by the Sherriff implies some problem with depression. We don't know about that, but he did have a problem with addiction for a long time.

HOLMES: He was very open about talking about addiction. In fact, a lot of his comedy talked about addiction. That stand-up special I mentioned, "A Night At The Met," has long pieces about the dangers of, particularly, cocaine. He was very open about how close to the edge he lived and had lived.

SIEGEL: Linda, thank you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Linda Holmes speaking about Robin Williams who died today at age 63. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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