On August 11, 2014, the world lost a great comedic legend and humanitarian when Robin Williams passed away at the age of 61.
A life devoted to comedy and a brilliant and compassionate mind that gave millions of fans across the world the impression that they knew him, Robin Williams is being remembered today as one of the greatest actors of all time and a legendary comedian.
During a time of crisis, Robin Williams was prepared to give up his life as an actor to assist those in need. He is best known for his portrayal of Oscar Madison in the film Mr. Williams, and although the film was released in 1995, the selfless nature of Williams’ character is representative of his life in times of need.
“My gift is that I can make people feel better about themselves and their problems,” he once said. “Even if I can make people laugh, I’ve accomplished something. That’s rare in this business.”
After his father died from cancer in 1961, Robin became an agent of the American Cancer Society and, aside from occasional film work, served as a spokesman for the organization for the rest of his life. In 1968, he founded the Robin Williams Foundation, which raises money for educational programs that benefit children with cancer, and in 2002 he founded the Robin Hood Foundation, which provides disaster relief for those in need.
As a comedian, Robin Williams was a classically trained performer who developed a singular style that has become the basis of many imitators. Early in his career, Williams realized the importance of stand-up comedy in the political realm and used his platform to make a difference. In 1985, he co-founded the Groundlings, a comedy group that encouraged its members to get involved in social issues and promote change through comedy. In addition to being a talented actor and comedian, Robin Williams is also an accomplished musician, songwriter, and author.
Stand-up comedy has become a powerful tool in the fight against AIDS, and Robin Williams was an active participant in the comedy world’s response to the epidemic. He became well known for his work in the 1988 film Dead Poets Society, and during one of the film’s many impromptu performances, he encouraged his audience to get involved in AIDS prevention education and service. The film’s powerful message and Robin Williams’ dedicated acting in the role made it a classic and propelled him to international stardom.
“It makes you proud to be an American, you know?” he said in 1992. “We’ve been able to take the basic concepts of democracy and apply them to solving social problems. We’re a forward-looking country, and I think that’s one of the things that appeals to me about it.”
Robin’s work in the fight against AIDS made him a hero to many and a role model for those who worked with and cared about him. His wife, Susan Sarandon, has devoted her time to HIV/AIDS activism and is currently the spokeswoman for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a group that works to provide access to treatment for people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries. She has also been outspoken about the stigma that still surrounds the disease and has worked to destigmatize it. Along with his foundation and his work with the American Cancer Society and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Robin Williams has made a lasting impact on the world. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on through the work that he started and the service that he rendered to this day.
Although best known for his work as an actor, Robin Williams has also been recognized for the depth of his work behind the scenes. He has worked with some of the greatest directors in the business, and according to many, his ability to improvise and his deep understanding of the characters he plays make him a difficult find for film and television roles. In addition to being a respected actor, he is also a celebrated film and television director, making him a rarity in the industry. Some of his notable achievements as a director include Awakenings, Moscow on the Hudson, and Good Will Hunting. In 2012, he was awarded the Irving G. Joralemon Award for Excellence in Teaching at the American Film Institute.
Over the course of his career, Robin Williams worked with some of the greatest artists in the genre, from the greats of literature to legends of music, to create timeless stories and songs that continue to resonate with audiences decades later. Whether or not one considers oneself a fan of his work, it is undeniable that Robin Williams was a towering figure in popular culture who will continue to inspire future generations.