One of the greatest comedic performers the world has ever known, Robin Williams was highly celebrated for his hugely impressive improvisational wit which was supplemented by a streak of metamodern sincerity. Williams, who took his own life in 2014, is still fondly remembered for his unforgettable contributions to the world of cinema, ranging from his inspirational stint in Dead Poets Society to his hilariously absurd renditions in Mrs. Doubtfire.
When asked about their favourite Robin Williams performances, fans usually selected one or two of his greatest hits. Most would advocate for his brilliant work in Good Morning, Vietnam and Good Will Hunting after they all shed a tear while thinking about what Dead Poets Society means to them. It is only natural that fans gravitate towards his comedic interpretations because it is through his work in the comic genre that Williams made a name for himself.
However, the actor himself preferred some of his other work over the comedy roles, which might serve as an insight into how he really felt about his work, offering a glimpse into the extent to which his comedy was performative. After his tragic suicide, the world could not believe how the man who put a smile on everyone’s face was suffering from mental health issues, but the burden of slipping into a role that is contradictory to one’s real experiences is often debilitating.
Just prior to his death, Williams participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session where he was asked a multitude of questions about various subjects. He talked about how much he loved his wife’s art and even claimed that Jack Nicholson was the favourite celebrity he liked to impersonate. Williams also revealed that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy was his favourite book series, as a testament to his excellent taste.
One Redditor asked about his favourite role of all time to which he answered Dr. Malcolm Sayers in Penny Marshall’s 1990 film Awakenings. This surprised many people when they found out about it because they were expecting one of his better-known films but Williams maintained that the role was a “gift”. His role was based on British neurologist Oliver Sacks who worked with survivors of sleeping sickness.
Williams was really excited about the opportunity to meet Sacks and lauded the doctor’s ability to “explore the human brain from the inside out”. Due to this role, the actor developed a lifelong fascination with human behaviour. The film’s director Penny Marshall noted: “I think when Oliver first met Robin, he was amazed at Robin’s ability to imitate. Robin could do all of Oliver’s moves, and I think it made Oliver a little nervous”.