Actor spotlight special: Robin Williams

By on August 20, 2014

For most of us, it will go down as one of those times you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard the news: Robin Williams is dead. My oldest son told me just before we sat down for dinner at a beach house during our family vacation in Chincoteague. We were all dumbfounded and in total disbelief. I knew immediately I needed to dedicate the next Reel Reviews to the comic/actor who touched many of us in ways he never knew.

Robin as Popeye in 1980.

Robin as Popeye in 1980.

As a child of the ‘70s, I grew up watching Williams in the television hit “Mork & Mindy.” Nanu nanu! However, it wasn’t until 1989 that Williams made something resonate in my soul. I was a bit too young to fully understand “The World According to Garp.” I laughed at “Moscow on the Hudson,” and while “Good Morning, Vietnam” is one of the greatest and most memorable films ever made, it wasn’t until Williams played English teacher John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” that I was moved — truly moved — by a film.

“Dead Poets Society” was an affirmation. For many years prior to ‘89 I filled notebooks with verse — some rather sophomoric for sure — and I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since the eighth grade. The tale of righteous disobedience echoed in my soul as I struggled with the conforms of education, English, and life in general. The film let me know there was a place for the just and a place for those who will not kowtow to the norm. I felt accepted by the world knowing this work of art, “Dead Poet’s Society,” lived.

Robin excelled in the more serious role of English teacher John Keating in "Dead Poet's Society" in 1989.

Robin excelled in the more serious role of English teacher John Keating in “Dead Poet’s Society” in 1989.

I watched the movie repeatedly, memorizing the lines like a Russian poet under Stalin’s rule. My girlfriend, who now is my wife, bought me a prop English textbook from the film, “Introduction to Poetry.” I procured an actual working script for the film. It was the first script I’d ever seen; I read it several times and the typewritten pages still sit near my desk today.

The inspiration I gathered from Williams as Keating and “Dead Poets Society” is immeasurable. I’m sure many of the actor’s roles in movies like “Good Will Hunting,” “Awakenings,” “Patch Adams,” had the same effect for countless others. Some others — like my children now — have come to know Williams as a childhood memory. Williams was an awesome Peter Pan in “Hook.” His voiceover work for “Aladdin” and “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” is some of the greatest of all time.

Moving past the memories and looking forward, Williams will have a posthumous impact on our lives. Due out in November, Williams stars alongside Joel McHale (TV’s “The Soup,” and “Community”) in a seasonal comedy of errors. Still waiting in post-production, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” is yet to be rated and a trailer has not been released. Also this Christmas, Williams will be seen reprising his role as Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” The third installment of the comedy franchise will hit the screens Dec. 19. Across the pond, Williams was set to play

"Mrs. Doubtfire" won Robin a new batch of fans in 1993.

“Mrs. Doubtfire” won Robin a new batch of fans in 1993.

the voice over part of a dog in “Absolutely Anything.” The sci fi comedy featuring the members of Monty Python was scheduled for a 2015 release, but co-star Simon Pegg admitted in a recent interview he was unsure if Williams finished the voice work for the movie. Lionsgate UK has not made an official announcement about the film regarding Williams’ role.

Past and future, Williams will be sorely missed. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at 354-0609.

Robin won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of therapist Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting." (1997)

Robin won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of therapist Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting.” (1997)

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