Facts We Just Learned About Robin Williams That Made Us Say 'Really?'
It's difficult to exaggerate the impact of Robin Williams, because "impact" is the perfect word for his comedic style. In his stand-up, he threw jokes at the audience rapid-fire, parading through characters and voices without stopping for breath - ending his set drenched in a mixture of his own sweat and several bottles of water. As an actor, he could achieve heartbreaking sincerity - such as his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting - or clown his way through utter dreck.
Off stage, Williams battled with depression and addiction. In the comedy community, he was both envied for his success and despised for stealing jokes - a charge Williams freely admitted to. He was open about his flaws, and beloved by his friends - and audiences the world over. Here are a few things you may not have known about Robin Williams. Vote up the facts that genuinely surprise you.
- Photo: Superman: The Movie / Warner Bros.16,916 VOTES
When actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed during a horse riding accident in 1995, Williams was the first person to show up at his bedside. The two had been students at Juilliard in the 1970s, and remained good friends in the ensuing decades.
While Reeve was waiting for a risky surgical procedure to reattach his skull and spine, Williams appeared in medical scrubs pretending to be Reeve's proctologist. Despite the Russian accent Williams used, it didn't take long for Reeve to figure out the prank. "He came here one afternoon and just — thank God I wear a seatbelt in this chair because I would have fallen out laughing," Reeve said.
Shortly after Williams passed in 2014, Reeve's family released a statement saying, "After our father's accident, Robin's visit to his hospital room was the first time that Dad truly laughed. Dad later said, 'My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.'"
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures25,993 VOTES
In the 1990s, Robin Williams was making about $8 million per film. That wasn't the case on Disney's Aladdin. The high-profile comedian and actor agreed to work for scale ($75,000), on the condition that Disney not use him prominently in marketing the 1992 animated feature. As Williams told the Today Show:
We had a deal.... The one thing I said was I will do the voice. I'm doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don't want to sell anything — as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.
But Disney did use Williams and his character in its advertising - and the film ultimately pulled in more than $500 million worldwide. Williams was salty about the experience, and gave several interviews badmouthing Disney for reneging on their deal. "[T]hey crossed the line," he said. However, Disney representatives argued that all their marketing was approved by Williams and his wife.
Whatever the case, Disney hoped to smooth things over by sending Williams a painting by Pablo Picasso worth about $1 million. Williams's friend Eric Idle, a member of Monty Python, told Williams he should "burn the Picasso live as a form of protest."
Disney and Williams did eventually patch things up, and the actor returned to the Aladdin franchise to voice the genie in 1996's Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
- Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.039,155 VOTES
Schindler's List is a heartbreaking film about a monstrous era in world history, and the production took an emotional toll on director Steven Spielberg. In 2018, the director revealed that he and Williams had a weekly phone call that helped him relax:
Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone. I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.
- Photo: Good Will Hunting / Miramax Films48,731 VOTES
It Was His Dementia, Not Depression, That Ultimately Caused Williams To Take His Life
Throughout his career, Robin Williams was open about his struggle with depression, and when he took his life in August 2014, many outlets speculated his depression was to blame. Sadly, this was only one factor that contributed to his passing.
In fact, Williams suffered from a neurodegenerative disorder known as Lewy body dementia, or dementia with Lewy bodies. It is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. The symptoms are debilitating and include "fluctuations in mental status, hallucinations and impairment of motor function."
According to Williams' widow, Susan, the disease began to manifest in the year before the comedian took his life, and rapidly ate away at his mental state. The man she loved was "just disintegrating" before her eyes, Susan explained in an interview. Williams' friend, director Bobcat Goldthwait, recognized this as well.
"I definitely witnessed his dementia," Goldthwait said. "You know, him processing things completely different.... He was frustrated trying to memorize dialogue and things like that. This was something that was attacking his brain..."
Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three months before his suicide, and it wasn't until three months after his death that the coroner confirmed he suffered from Lewy body dementia. Susan wrote that Williams had lost 40% of his dopamine neurons, and his case was "one of the worst pathologies [his doctors] had seen."
If he had not taken his life, Williams was predicted to live three more years, at most, and in a progressively declining condition.
- Photo: Insomnia / Warner Bros.
To many comedians, stealing a signature joke is the ultimate sin of stand-up. In the comedy community, Robin Williams was alleged to be a prolific stealer of jokes - but comedians differ on how intentional this was.
Some claim Williams would go to comedy clubs to deliberately steal other comics' material, while others say Williams soaked up comedy bits like a sponge and would repeat them while going on improvisational tangents. Williams himself admitted to the latter in a 2010 interview with Marc Maron:
I think in the old days... if you hang out in comedy clubs, when I was doing it almost 24/7, you hear things, and then if you're improvising all of a sudden you repeat it and go, "Oh s***..." My brain was working that way.
Williams also admitted that, when comedians confronted him about stealing their jokes, he apologized by paying for them. "I was also like the bank of comedy," he told Maron. "Like, 'Oh s***, here you go, here's money, I'm sorry!"
- Photo: Jumanji / Sony Pictures Releasing68,134 VOTES
As Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone was going into production, Robin Williams was eager to play the role of Hagrid - the kindly, half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the producers had imposed a "Brits-only" rule for the casting.
Casting director Janet Hirshenson told the Huffington Post, “Robin had called because he really wanted to be in the movie, but it was a British-only edict, and once [director Chris Columbus] said no to Robin, he wasn’t going to say yes to anybody else, that’s for sure. It couldn’t be.”