Becoming a heavy hitter in Hollywood isn’t something just anybody can do. It takes amazing talent, an unmatched drive for success and a healthy dose of luck, as well. Only a very small percentage of people possess the qualities it takes to make it big on the silver screen.
The comedic virtuoso Robin Williams is someone who had all three of these characteristics from the very beginning of his career. If you watch any performance of his, comedic or dramatic, you instantly realize why he was a star. He was a magnetic personality that you just couldn’t take your eyes off of.
You’ll be even more impressed after reading these 33 little known facts about this respected and accomplished actor.
1. You would have a hard time believing this fact based on the roles you’ve seen Robin star in, but when he was a young boy, he claimed he had very few friends because he was so overweight. He started imitating voices to entertain himself as a result.
Eva Rinaldi / Flickr
2. When Robin was a struggling actor trying to make a living in New York City, he would often perform shows as a mime for extra cash. He would usually act with a partner outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
forceduse / Imgur
3. The high school that Robin graduated from gave him quite the senior superlative before he graduated. He was actually voted “Least Likely To Succeed” by classmates. Boy, did he prove them wrong!
JoonHo Son / Flickr
4. Robin received some very unusual advice while he was taking classes and training at NYC’s Julliard. He was told to focus more on his stand-up career than acting. Very interesting considering he’s an Academy Award winner.
Chris Bastian / Flickr
5. Considering the amount of success that Robin achieved over his career, the first film he starred in was a complete flop; it was a live-action version of the popular comic strip “Popeye” and received scathing reviews.
Kevin Dooley / Flickr
6. While attending Julliard, Robin became very close friends with Christopher Reeves, the actor who played the original Superman. As Robin recalls, Reeves would share his food with him when he was broke and scrounging for money.
Kenneth Hagemeyer / Flickr
7. Of all the spot-on impressions that Robin could do, his favorite of all time is Jack Nicholson. Interestingly enough, Robin claimed that the comedian Dana Carvey could, in fact, do the best impression of Robin himself.
Mark Skrabola / Flickr
8. In one interview at the start of his blossoming career, Robin told a reporter he was born in Scotland, which wasn’t true at all. He later admitted he may have been slightly intoxicated, and changed his answer to Chicago.
Alan Light / Flickr
9. Robin’s first big break into the limelight was when he made an appearance on the show Happy Days in 1978. He was cast as an alien from another planet, named Mork. The character was the inspiration for the hit spin-off, Mork and Mindy.
JasonChamberlain / Flickr
10. When Robin auditioned for the role of Mork, he did something very unusual for the casting directors. When they asked him to come in and sit, he decided to do a headstand. He was immediately hired for the absurdity.
Walter Lim / Flickr
11. Robin was so talented at improvisational comedy, the writers of Mork and Mindy would purposely leave out large sections of dialogue, and Robin would improvise entire scenes by himself.
Eva Rinaldi / Flickr
12. Like many of the celebrities in Hollywood, Robin was exposed to lots of alcohol and drugs. He fell victim to drug addiction but, thankfully, got clean after the birth of his oldest son and the death of his good friend Saturday Night Live star John Belushi.
tonynetone / Flickr
13. During Robin’s first marriage, he made the unfortunate choice of cheating on his wife with a cocktail waitress. The waitress ended up suing him for contracting herpes. This incident led to the creation of this famous formula: “Tragedy + time = comedy.”
Alan Light / Flickr
14. After he and his wife filed for divorce, Robin married his children’s nanny. The nanny was pregnant with Robin’s daughter Zelda at the time, and they were married for 19 years before she called it quits.
JasonShellen / Flickr
15. The name Zelda is very unique. After being questioned about the decision to give his daughter such an uncommon name, Robin admitted his son came up with idea by playing the well-known video game, The Legend of Zelda.
Disney/ABC Television Group / Flickr
16. Remember the movie The Shining? The director, Stanley Kubrick, initially wanted to cast Robin as the lead character. After watching Mork and Mindy, however, Kubrick deemed Robin “too psychotic” for the role. It went to Jack Nicholson, instead.
Loren Javier / Flickr
17. Robin was, apparently, good friends with Steven Spielberg. During the filming of Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, Robin would call Spielberg with jokes and impressions in an attempt to cheer him up after spending all day on a solemn and depressing movie set.
Gerald Geronimo / Flickr
18. After Robin’s good friend Christopher Reeves became paralyzed from a horse jumping accident, he showed up to the hospital as an eccentric proctologist from Russia who needed to give Reeves a rectal examination. It was the first time he’d cracked a smile since the accident.
Andre Queiroz / Flickr
19. Robin was a huge fan of the Monty Python comedy troupe. He loved the absurdity that they would frequently display. After Robin passed away, one of the Python members was quoted as saying that being on stage with Robin “would have been like being invited to play in a jazz band where you couldn’t play an instrument.”
Paul Townsend / Flickr
20. Robin was an avid cyclist. He would frequently go on rides through the neighborhoods around his home. He trained with Lance Armstrong a few times, and even got to ride in Armstrong’s team car.
Sebastian David Tinkgaer / Flickr
21. The word “shazbot,” which was a vulgar alien term on the show Mork and Mindy during the opening credits, was invented by Robin. He had no idea that the word would make its way into lots of pop culture, such as The Simpsons and some video games.
Global Panorama / Flickr
22. When Disney first had the idea of casting him for the voice of the genie in Aladdin, they knew they needed to do something special in order to get him on board. So, they animated the genie performing Robin’s stand-up act. He signed on shortly after.
JD Hancock / Flickr
23. Similar to the improvisational techniques used for Mork and Mindy, much of Robin’s dialogue throughout Aladdin was unscripted, which gave Robin complete creative control over his character. While this led to great comedic moments, it took Aladdin out of the Academy Award race for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Cliff / Flickr
24. When Robin discovered that Disney was using his voice to sell Aladdin merchandise after the movie came out, he was furious. He had specifically instructed them not to do so. As an apology, Disney sent him an original Picasso painting thought to be worth upwards of one million dollars.
JD Hancock / Flickr
25. The wealth Robin amassed over his career allowed him to purchase a vineyard located near his home in California. Even though it was beautiful, Robin admitted it felt strange to own an entire vineyard.
bjorn hornemann / Flickr
26. During an episode of Friends, Robin, and longtime friend Billy Crystal happened to be in the same building during the filming process. They invited the two of them on set, where they improvised an entire opening scene.
David Shankbone / Flickr
27. Over the course of his career, Robin had many blockbuster hits in theaters. Jumanji and The Birdcage were two of his most successful films, each earning over $100 million in the same week.
Tony Altar / Flickr
28. Sometimes the earned pay in Hollywood doesn’t seem to make too much sense. Robin only received $75,000 dollars for his work in the Disney movie Aladdin, but he received $20 million for Bicentennial Man, a movie considered by many to be a huge flop.
The World Famous Comedy Store / Flickr
29. During the filming of Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin wanted to test out the prosthetics, makeup, and costumes of the title character to see if she was believable as a real woman. He went to a sex shop and asked the clerk some very intimate questions about certain products. Eventually, they realized who he was.
Terry Robinson / Flickr
30. Even though Robin was against the war in Iraq, he would frequently entertain the troops. He knew that the life they led overseas was in need of some laughter, just like everyone else’s.
National Museum of the US Navy / Flickr
31. James Lipton, the host of the famous program Inside the Actor’s Studio, had Robin on the show in 2001. He asked Robin what he’d like to hear God say when he reached the pearly gates, and Robin’s reply was, “There’s seating near the front. The concert begins at five, it’ll be Mozart, Elvis, and one of your choosing.”
Nick Step / Flickr
32. During the same appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Robin made one of the members in the audience laugh so hard he gave himself a hernia. Now, that’s what you’d call comedy!
Ver en vivo En Directo / Flickr
33. Even though Robin attained such fame and notoriety, he always remembered his roots and how hard he had to work to achieve his successes. He even set up a scholarship for incoming students at Julliard to help with the costs. Robin was a magnetic and generous personality, and he will truly be missed.
Loren Javier / Filckr
Who knew that beyond the fame and wealth, Robin Williams was such a grounded person? We should all strive to be as influential as he was.
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