From a career filled with amazing highs and several cinematic lows, the late Robin Williams will always be the benchmark between stand-up skill and dramatic depth.
Born in Chicago, he splashed onto the scene, suddenly, like a successfully launched Apollo space capsule, his rat-a-tat reflexes and verbal gymnastics taking more than one mid-'70s TV viewer aback. No one had ever seen someone like Robin Williams before, a Julliard-trained shaggy haired hippie holdover in a cherry red alien outfit who acted like he was indeed from another planet.
He was part Chaplin, part Pryor, an ad-libbing maniac who tossed every imaginable idea, accent, social taboo, and current event talking point into a blender, mixing them up in his mind to then blather on non-stop, weaving his own Rumpelstiltskin like web of mischievous comedic gold. After being introduced on the popular sitcom Happy Days, Williams received his own spin-off shot at stardom, the surreal laugher about an extraterrestrial and his platonic bond with an Earth girl entitled Mork and Mindy. A huge hit, it wasn't long afterwards that film came calling for the then 29-year-old "overnight sensation."
From then on, Williams rose in the ranks, becoming the funny man du jour for a good portion of the '80s and '90s. But he also balanced his frantic sense of humor with a deep understanding of drama and human hurting, eventually earning acclaim and awards for same. For every The Survivors, there was a Dead Poets Society. For every flight of fancy like Toys or Hook, there was a dark, more devastating What Dreams May Come, or Bicentennial Man.
By the new millennium, he became one of those "anything for a paycheck" punch lines, a reputation that still dogs stars like Nicolas Cage and Robert De Niro, but even at his worst, Robin Williams was enigmatic. And at his best, like the ten performances we have highlighted here, he proved that, sometimes, there's a huge hollow place inside the otherwise fun loving clown. While his untimely death will resonate in the now, it's these films, and many others, that will guarantee his star stature for decades to come.