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Remembering The Big-Hearted Comedy Of Robin Williams

Robin Williams, seen here at the Emmy Awards in September 2013, died Monday at the age of 63.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images
Robin Williams, seen here at the Emmy Awards in September 2013, died Monday at the age of 63.
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Stephen Thompson and I took a few minutes today to talk about the comedic work of Robin Williams, who passed away Monday (preliminary reports suggest suicide, though the investigation is ongoing) and whose TV comedies, standup specials and movie roles we have watched and loved for many years.

Williams went through a phase in which it was fashionable to focus on some of the more sentimental film roles he was doing and overlook — or even scoff at — his incredibly inventive, high-wire comedy. We didn't really touch on his later dramatic work as much, but roles like One Hour Photo and Death to Smoochy went a long way toward clarifying the breadth of his talents and his surprising range, as did some of his work on television, including Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: SVU. (He was so, so funny, and he was perfectly capable of being so, so sad and — if necessary — so, so creepy.)

While it may have seemed like he was a lot to take in situations where he couldn't resist the riffing and moving and voice-jumping that took over a lot of his talk-show appearances, there was a side of him that simply wanted, badly, to be embraced, and wasn't afraid to say so. The searching and, in retrospect, heartbreaking conversation he had with Marc Maron for the WTF podcast in 2010 is a reminder of how much he'd come to understand about his own battles, and a reminder as well that those battles are fought for a long, long time, even after you know all you'll ever learn about them.

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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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