Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Comedians are awesomely complex individuals. So are many actors. Williams excelled at both, leaving us many hours to (re) visit and savor. So imagine the tempest within, a restless id that was rarely suppressed, though admirably he would calm down long enough to occasionally deliver serious performances, free of the usual mania seen on stage or in his sillier outings. Like many of my generation, I first learned of the man from his role on Mork & Mindy, the late 70s sitcom. Mork, from the planet Ork, was a tidal wave of energy not seen elsewhere. The show was your usual Gary Marshall silliness but Williams' endless improvisation made it special. When that other king of improv, Jonathan Winters guest starred, well, the comic universe damn near imploded.
My father bought Williams' comedy album Reality...What a Concept and let me listen along, much to my surprise. This was the man unbound, uncensored, free of network standards and practices. I heard the album so many times that when I read or hear snippets these days they're as familiar as my own name. I also enjoyed Williams' HBO specials. I clearly recall the opening of one of them, shot in San Francisco. In voiceover, the comedian explained his love for that city, the draw of it.
Williams would begin a long film career after Mork & Mindy ceased production. One of his first was a film I still hold dearly, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. In my review from a few years back you can read why this is so. But Williams really pulled it off; he proved he could power down and act. In films like MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, AWAKENINGS, GOOD WILL HUNTING, INSOMNIA, and ONE HOUR PHOTO, he showed the world he could do it completely straight, with discipline, even. He really disappeared into those roles. In THE FISHER KING, my favorite Williams picture, he channeled his patented energy into a role that required everything he had. Pathos leavened by humor and uncertainty. That may have described the man himself, how he felt. I wish someone, anyone could've talked him down. Rest in peace, good fellow. You will be missed.