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FLASH SPECIAL: A Friend Like Him - A Robin Williams Memorial

Today we shine a special solo spotlight on one of the most popular and prolific comedians and actors of our age in honor of his unexpected death this week at the age of 63, Robin Williams.

A Friend Like Him

Although perhaps only a handful of the many millions of fans around the world who adore his work were actually privileged enough to call him a friend in their own lives, there was an unmistakable affability and familiarity imbued in the at-turns off-the-wall, outlandish, touching and altogether terrific characterizations of so many of the characters created by Robin Williams throughout his impossibly impressive and varied career to such an extent that many of us may have felt an even deeper connection to the performer we were witnessing onstage and onscreen than ever existed - he felt like a real friend. Known for both comedy and drama, Williams was a veritable whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm, seeming to almost effortlessly conjure up any number of emotions at a moment's notice and craft three-dimensional dramatic and comedic beings right before our very eyes in doing so - living, breathing and laughing all the while.

Having attended Juilliard, the early-career break of MORK & MINDY solidified the otherworldly charms of Robin Williams with a TV audience, though we would soon discover his vast abilities stretched far behind the confines of virtually anything that the small screen could throw at him or contain - even in a 1970s sitcom about an alien, a spin-off from HAPPY DAYS. While his comedic chops were always significant, it was in his stand-up specials where he could truly let loose and display an incomparable effervescence and outrageous zest that he solely possessed. And, he did just that byway of his multiple comedy showcases - such as 1978's ROBIN WILLIAMS: LIVE AT THE ROXY and 1982's AN EVENING WITH ROBIN WILLIAMS, as well as 1986's ROBIN WILLIAMS: AT THE MET and the 2002 Broadway special event ROBIN WILLIAMS: LIVE ON BROADWAY.

Yet, the plethora of performative riches shared by Williams with his audience was not merely limited to cartoonish real-life characters and actual cartoons - such as his iconic Golden Globe-cited turn in the mega-hit Disney animated musical ALADDIN in 1992, as well as his work in Steven Spielberg's HOOK. Indeed, in a spate of dramatic roles ranging from the coming-of-age tenderness exhibited in DEAD POETS SOCIETY to the psychological drama of AWAKENINGS to the incredible dramatic range shown in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP through to his Academy Award-winning work in GOOD WILL HUNTING, his terrifying turn in ONE HOUR PHOTO, the bizarre THE NIGHT LISTENER and the absorbing INSOMNIA and far beyond, Williams continually explored the many sides of his copious talent throughout his career - drama, comedy; stage, screen; time and time again.

But, back to the Genie - few animated performances have ever captured the imagination of generations of viewers in quite the same way that Williams's turn did in ALADDIN. "A Friend Like Me" alone was the kind of musical theatre showstopper usually reserved for Broadway, particularly in the dark days for movie musicals that dominated the 1980s and 1990s. It was and is a delectable and dizzying tour de force the likes of which we rarely see and it is a tribute to his talent that even the current stage iteration of the Disney hit gives a wink to his portrayal, as seen in the 2014 Tony Award-winning work by James Monroe Iglehart in the role onstage. After all, there would be no Genie - at least no Genie as we know him - without Williams.

In addition to ALADDIN onscreen and his 2002 Broadway stand-up show, theatre enthusiasts also recently got another opportunity to see Williams live onstage in a dramatic role via Rajiv Joseph's BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO. Previously, Williams joined fellow comedian-cum-actor Steve Martin in an Off-Broadway production of WAITING FOR GODOT, as well. Surely, one could imagine several more stage performances of great value had Williams lived longer - perhaps even a return to Shakespeare, particularly coming after his tantalizing Osric in Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed 1996 film adaptation of Shakespeare's HAMLET. Nevertheless, it was in stand-up comedy, award shows and talk show appearances - anything with that indeterminate and unpredictable live audience element - where Williams shined brightest.

That said, who can refuse re-viewing THE BIRDCAGE anytime it pops up on TV, if only to sample a morsel of the guffaw-inducing antics? The same goes for his legendary gender-bending turn as MRS. DOUBTFIRE and the cartoon-made-real in POPEYE. Additionally, a whole new generation has been exposed to his myriad talents due to his amusing work in the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM series, too - the current installment of which is now in production, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB, acting as one of his final roles put to film.

Given the circumstances surrounding his death, many may remember Williams as the embodiment of the sad clown - always appearing up for entertaining in public, while nursing demons of his own in private. Certainly, the astounding range shown in any number of his performances acts as evidence for that. Everything else aside, first and foremost, Robin Williams was the perfect imagined dinner party guest and the ideal example of someone who could be a total stranger yet, through the sheer power of performance magic, make you feel like a fast friend for life.

Little Dream

So, now, let's take a look at some of the most memorable moments from the exemplary career of Robin Williams.

First up, television history is made when Mork meets The Fonz on HAPPY DAYS.

Next, the pilot episode for MORK & MINDY kicked off a wondrous career trajectory on TV and far beyond.

Now, see Williams hit the big screen in Robert Altman's POPEYE.

Sample Williams's dramatic side with THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP.

After that, take in Williams's memorable work in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY profoundly spoke to an entire generation.

Then, AWAKENINGS featured Williams alongside Hollywood's best.

THE FISHER KING showed off Williams's zany comic side.

Plus, MRS. DOUBTFIRE is a surefire 1990s comedy classic.

Francis Ford Coppola gave Williams the part of a lifetime in JACK.

GOOD WILL HUNTING was an Oscar-winning dramatic performance few will forget anytime soon.

For many, THE BIRDCAGE may be his career apotheosis - and, with good reason, as seen below.

THE NIGHT LISTENER afforded Williams with a rich dramatic part.

ONE HOUR PHOTO allowed Williams the chance to explore psychological horror.

In INSOMNIA, Williams teamed up with another acting legend, Al Pacino.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB will be one of Williams's final screen appearances.

Go back to 1978 to see Robin Williams near the start of his career, bringing his act into the stratosphere.

See the comedy special that cemented his place as a top comic in 1982.

Williams stops the show cold on a COMIC RELIEF charity special.

View one of Robin Williams's final comedy specials, ironically titled WEAPONS OF SELF-DESTRUCTION.

Robin Williams engages in an in-depth discussion of BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.

Williams famously provides an unforgettable cameo in Branagh's HAMLET - see him break the crew up between takes.

Lastly, no Robin Williams clip collection could be complete without ALADDIN's most famous showstopper, "A Friend Like Me".

As a special bonus, view the first appearance by Robin Williams on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON.

One more bonus finds Billy Crystal and Robin Williams cutting a rug as only they could on COMIC RELIEF.

So, what is your absolute favorite Robin Williams performance to date? Furthermore, do you appreciate his comedic or dramatic performances more? Why so? Additionally, what role do you wish he had taken on prior to death if given just one more choice? With an actor this eminently gifted, the world has lost an artist of incredible import, and, even more than that, a friend, too.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)

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