By Betty Goodwin
Special to TelevisionWeek
The acceptance speech should be a doozy.
When Robin heads-walks? leaps? dashes?-onstage to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a special Golden Globe for his “outstanding contribution to the world of entertainment,” all bets are off as to what will happen next. Mr. Williams, of course, is a master of the unexpected, famous for his manic, quick mind and rapid-fire improvisational skills.
Besides his remarkable career accomplishments on television, on stage and in movies, veering from comedy to straight dramatic roles to voice-over work, Mr. Williams, 52, is as well liked by those who have worked with him as anyone in the business. “He’s the best friend anyone could ever wish for,” said Billy Crystal, one of his co-hosts on HBO’s “Comic Relief” specials. “I love working with him. His mind is breathtaking. His Rolodex is so expansive. It’s like chasing a comet around.”
“He was so spectacular in terms of his comedic genius,” said Joel Zwick, who directed several episodes of the first season of Mr. Williams’ breakout television series “Mork & Mindy.” “Nice? He’s unbelievable. To this day he refers to me as `Mr. Zwick, sir.”‘
“He’s wonderful,” said Marty Callner, director of several of Mr. Williams’ HBO specials, starting 20 years ago and including “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” in 2002. “Professional. No attitude. In 20 years, I’ve never seen him lose it. Not once.”
Mr. is also a darling of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He has won four Golden Globes, starting with an acting award for “Mork & Mindy,” and has been nominated six other times. He is also responsible for one of the most unforgettable moments in the recent history of Golden Globes telecasts. It occurred in 1998, when Christine Lahti won for best actress in a drama series but was in the ladies room when her award was announced. As the room waited nervously for her to appear, Mr. jumped up from the audience and vamped for time, sending everyone into hysterics when he handed Ms. Lahti a napkin with which to wipe her hands.
“He saved the Golden Globes that year,” said Philip Berk, a past president of the HFPA. “Robin is one of the best-loved people in the industry. He is always very-not just pleasant, everything he does, he’s always prepared to give everything he has. He treats everyone equally. He’s a very decent human being.”
Mr. Berk said when Mr. was told about this year’s award, “Obviously he was very honored and very flattered.”
Mr. Williams’ location at press time also speaks volumes about him. He was entertaining troops in the Middle East, his third Christmastime trip.
His philanthropic and social concerns are hardly a secret. When his Juilliard School classmate Christopher Reeve was recuperating from a devastating spinal cord injury, Mr. announced he would pay all his medical costs not covered by insurance. On a larger scale, since 1986, he has appeared on numerous “Comic Relief” specials, fund-raisers for America’s homeless.
Born in Chicago and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Mr. is the son of a Ford Motor Co. executive and his wife. After graduating from Claremont Men’s College in Claremont, Calif., he attended Juilliard, studying with John Houseman. Jonathan Winters was his early inspiration. At Mr. Houseman’s urging, he focused on comedy, doing stand-up in clubs and appearing on television variety shows such as “The Richard Pryor Show.”
When he appeared as an alien named Mork on an episode of “Happy Days,” ABC was inundated with mail, and Mr. was spun off into his own series, “Mork & Mindy,” in 1978.
“After a couple of days, I said, `This kid’s a genius.’ It was like working with Charlie Chaplin or Sid Caesar,” said Howard Storm, who directed most of the first three years of the series. “He was brilliant. He’d ad lib and play. I realized early on you had to let him play and then bring him back. You couldn’t insist, `The line is this.’ You couldn’t stop his creativity.
“Everybody in the business came to filming-every agent, producer, heads of studios. Michael Eisner [then president of Paramount] and Gary Nardino [head of television at Paramount] came almost every week. It was the hottest ticket in town.”
“You figured that someone would eventually find a vehicle to harness his comedic genius,” Mr. Zwick said.
Those vehicles have included starring roles in the movies “The World According to Garp,” “Moscow on the Hudson,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “The Fisher King,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Hook,” “Aladdin,” “Awakenings” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” and a supporting role in “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won an Academy Award.