From New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff, the definitive biography of Robin Williams – a compelling portrait of one of America’s most beloved and misunderstood entertainers.
From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy riffs to his breakout role in Mork & Mindy and his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative and beloved entertainer. He often came across as a man possessed, holding forth on culture and politics while mixing in personal revelations – all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another with lightning speed.
But as Dave Itzkoff shows in this revelatory biography, Williams’s comic brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt, which he drew upon in his comedy and in celebrated films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; The Fisher King; Aladdin; and Mrs. Doubtfire, where he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation to bring to life a wide range of characters. And in Good Will Hunting he gave an intense and controlled performance that revealed the true range of his talent.
Itzkoff also shows how Williams struggled mightily with addiction and depression – topics he discussed openly while performing and during interviews – and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never knew. Drawing on more than a hundred original interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, as well as extensive archival research, Robin is a fresh and original look at a man whose work touched so many lives.
Dave Itzkoff is a culture reporter for The New York Times who writes frequently about film, television and comedy. He is the author of three books including, most recently, Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. His fourth book, Robin, a biography of Robin Williams, will be published in May.
Robin by Dave Itzkoff is a 2018 Henry Holt and Co. Publication.
After Robin Williams passed away, my daughter turned to me and said, “I grew up with Robin Williams”. After a moment, I realized that in many ways, so had I. I was in my mid-teens when Robin burst onto the scene in that iconic episode of ‘Happy Days’ which led to ‘Mork & Mindy’. I loved that show and found Robin to be a fresh comedic talent who could pull off what appeared to be completely spontaneous dialogue and accompanied by high energy physical comedy. From that time forward I was a huge fan. I loved his stand -up routines and his movies.
For my daughter it was ‘Hook, then ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, then as she got older, ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ and ‘Good Will Hunting', while I loved ‘Good Morning, Vietnam' and 'The Fisher King'.
While I seldom over react to a celebrity death, Robin’s hit me hard. I was so shocked I’m not sure I ever really processed it outside of the grim aftermath, as lurid details emerged, and social media passed its harsh judgments.
Even though four years have passed, and much has happened in that time, I still feel a jolt of pain when I think of him. I wouldn’t want to read just any old ‘rushed to publication’ book written about him and I’m sure there have been a few hastily thrown together ‘cash grabs” which quickly faded into obscurity. This book, however, is professionally done, well- organized, insightful, informative, often very entertaining, and course poignant look back at the life and career of the one and only Robin Williams.
I personally had no knowledge of Robin’s upbringing and was surprised by his childhood. I could relate in some ways as my father moved his family around nearly as frequently as Robin’s did. I understood how isolating it can be, no matter what your personality type, to start over in a new town, in a new school, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and once again face the enormous task of making new friends and trying to fit in.
The beginning of Robin’s career was somewhat familiar to me, but I had forgotten a lot of the ups and downs in those early days. The drugs, alcohol, the sudden and intense success, followed by career fits and starts, with spurts of wide recognition followed by incredibly harsh critical bashing.
As a regular follower of Robin’s career, I began to recall much of the ground the author covered, but as far as Robin’s personal life went, I wasn’t all that knowledgeable. I knew he had problems with drugs, that Belushi’s death scared him straight, that Robin had been married and divorced, then remarried and had several children, but I was mostly in the dark when about the details behind his marriages and relationships with colleagues and friends.
The thing about this biography, that really stands out, is that it gives the reader a clearer picture of the man behind the frenetic comedy. Robin's fears, his goals, his hopes, and the demons that plagued him, how he made it all look spontaneous and easy. But, in reality, it was much harder to pull off than anyone ever knew. I was struck by how harsh the movie critics could be, bordering on downright nastiness.
Still, while Robin certainly made his share of sub-par films, overall his body of work is pretty solid, and I have to say, I thought that his improvisations often saved otherwise dull roles, that may have fallen flat if not for Robin’s putting his personal stamp on it. Of course, it backfired on him more than a few times, rather spectacularly. But, as harsh as the critics could be, the public often overrode their skepticism, making Robin's movie box office gold, time and time again.
I really enjoyed looking back on Robin’s career, reminiscing about some of his great roles, his hilarious jokes, and his energy. His personal life is fraught with as many ups and downs as his career, suffering with health problems and substance abuse issues. His battles with alcohol eventually broke up his long- time marriage to a woman who stabilized him in a way most others never could.
The concerns about Robin’s third marriage didn’t feel one hundred percent balanced and may have been the only place in the book where the author’s personal opinion was made evident. Nothing wrong with being independent or having a life which is not defined by your husband’s career. The subsequent estate disputes also painted her in a bad light, but I’m not sure the author approached these events in an entirely subjective manner.
The mystery surrounding Robin’s health in the last years of his life is just plain frustrating. His diagnosis, which may not have been the right one, only makes his suffering more poignant. What he was thinking is hard to discern. Some think he was very aware of what he was doing, while others think he was under the influence of the illness, which despite not knowing him personally, I agree with the latter. Looking at his life up that point, the trials he faced and the odds he overcame, I can’t help but think he was not himself at all at the time.
Reading about Robin’s struggles with his mind was utterly heartbreaking. By the end of the book as we relived Robin’s final days, once again, I was struck by the tremendous loss of talent. I swallowed down a huge and painful lump in my throat, as the impact his death had on the world of entertainment finally sank in. But, that is nothing compared to the loss his family and friends endured, the pain seeping through the pages as they coped not only with the loss, the manner of death, but with the court of public opinion.
The days after being no less stressful, but with the help and support of friends and family, the way to healing was launched. Following the brave example of his children, we can all look back on Robin’s life and career and remember him in the way he would want us to. Remember his compassion, the light he brought to those in need, the endless laughter, and hours of joy and entertainment he provided us with over the course of his life… and ours.
Personal note: The audio version of this book is very well done. If you have a chance to add it, it is worth it
While there will probably be other Robin Williams biographies published I can’t imagine that any of them will be as comprehensive or well done as “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff. Although the book is rather long (550 pages) and uses footnotes extensively, it never lagged. Itzkoff did extensive research and conducted many interviews with Robin’s friends, family, and co-stars in an attempt to understand this complex, driven, and extremely gifted man. Combined with those interviews and research, Itzkoff provided his own insightful analysis, and the result is a fully fleshed out portrait of this comedic genius and troubled soul.
Williams’ first widely known role was as Mork in the television series “Mork and Mindy.” In that role he was an actor like none I’d seen before with his amazing improvisations, frenetic behavior, and incredible comedic talent. That talent carried over to movies such as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Aladdin.” William also became known for dramatic roles in the movies “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Good Will Hunting.” His remarkable ability to perform both comedy and drama at such a high level made him a unique and beloved actor.
In one sense Williams was very open about his life - his addictions, depression, marriage and financial problems but he was also a cypher to those who knew him well.As Itzkoff writes in the Prologue:
“But who was he? Except for that one stray moment when he had spoken a few tentative words in his surprisingly stately voice and then metamorphosed into a French undersea explorer, Robin had never let the audience see his true self. Some part of him would be present in every role and stand-up set he would play over the next thirty-five years, but in their totality these things did not add up to him. The real Robin was a modest, almost inconspicuous man, who never fully believed he was worthy of the monumental fame, adulation, and accomplishments he would achieve. He shared the authentic person at his core with considerable reluctance, but he also felt obliged to give a sliver of himself to anyone he encountered even fleetingly. It wounded him deeply to think that he had denied a memorable Robin Williams experience to anyone who wanted it, yet the people who spent years by his side were left to feel that he had kept some fundamental part of himself concealed, even from them. Everyone felt as if they knew him, even if they did not always admire the work he did. Millions of people loved him for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, and the hopefulness he inspired. Some lost their affection for him in later years, as the quality of his work declined, even as they held out hope that he’d find the thing—the project, the character, the spark—that had made him great before, as great as he was when he first burst into the cultural consciousness. And when he was gone, we all wished we’d had him just a little bit longer.”
It’s a tragic loss to his family, friends, and fans that he left too soon and in so much pain.
Readers don’t have to be a Robin Williams fan or even have any knowledge of him to appreciate this book. Anyone who enjoys a well-researched and well-written biography of a one-of-a-kind individual will find “Robin” very worthwhile reading. Highly recommended.
Thank you to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
PLEASE read my updated "ABOUT ME" profile. ...........This is the last review I'm writing for the rest of 2018. This break has been brewing. Its time!
Audiobook.....read by the Fred Berman who was perfect for the task.
"Robin"................is as close to 'Robin Williams' as we're going to get. Author Dave Itzkoff gave us a thorough-all-encompassing *Robin*. I can't imagine anyone doing more.
I loved the meditative listening feeling I fell into at times while soaking in my pool...and or hanging out in our yard. 'Everything' Robin was just really nice to listen to.
To think Robin's High School classmates voted him most likely not to succeed. He wasn't just a well loved actor, he was also popular with the local residents in Paradise Cay in Marin County, California, here in the Bay Area, where he spent his final years. We can now drive through the "Robin Williams Tunnel".....which was formally called "The Rainbow Tunnel"....(very fitting with Robin's rainbow suspenders).
Love the guy........The aroma of this Audiobook is delicious!
4 stars to Robin, a thorough and well-written biography of the life of one-of-a-kind Robin Williams! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This book came highly recommended by my friend, Toni. I’m so grateful I read it.
My earliest memory of Robin Williams includes my mom’s hysterical laughter mixed with my own, while watching re-runs of Mork and Mindy. Robin’s silly humor even translated to small children! My favorite memory of him is when he came to my college’s campus to film Patch Adams, and I walked right by him and managed not to faint! Patch Adams remains my favorite Robin Williams’ movie.
Robin is a biographical compendium of Robin Williams’ life. This book is long on pages, but it does not feel that way when reading. Yes, there are tons of footnotes, but the author clearly did his job of interviewing and researching most every aspect of Williams’ full and varied life. I did not know much about his early life, or even his early career, so I soaked in all the details, and tried to put together the intricate pieces of the Robin puzzle.
Also included was information about his final diagnosis, Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia, which unfortunately, was not a diagnosis Williams’ received when he was still alive. One can only hope it would have offered him some understanding of what was going on physically with his body and cognitively with his thoughts.
Robin Williams was in a league of his own. This biography is a must for any fan, and even if you were not a fan, this is a perfectly written biography full of heart.
Thank you to Dave Itzkoff, Henry Holt and Co., and Netgalley for the ARC. Robin is available now!
I still remember how stunned I was when I heard that Robin Williams had died, and then even more shocked when it came out that he had likely died by hanging himself with a belt. It just seemed such a wretched ending for the beloved comedian who’d brought such a wonderful humor into our lives. It broke my heart and I cried for what he must have been going through. I highly enjoyed this extremely well-researched book on him.
I feel it did a great job of covering his life including his family and career. He became famous for Mork and Mindy in 1978 when I was 18, so I was quite aware of him and his show and he became one of my favorites comics. This book shares some of what was going on behind the scenes during many important times in his life and career versus what was coming out publicly.
After his death, I read more about what authorities found and I watched a show that discussed what actually killed him and was found during his autopsy. It seems he’d been misdiagnosed with Parkinsons and he was having all sorts of symptoms and health issues, including the depression he’d been bothered by off and on his whole life at times. I find the book an engrossing read as he was just so private even with those he seemed so close with and most people felt they didn’t really know him well. An advance digital copy was provided by NetGalley, author Dave Itzkoff, and the publisher for my honest review.
Henry Holt and Co. Publication date: May 15, 2018.
Every couple of months or so I think about Robin Williams and how he is no longer with us, and I just feel so sad. While he certainly made me laugh over the years and I thought he was a wonderful comedic and dramatic actor, I don't think I fully appreciated how absolutely brilliant he was until he was gone.
This is probably the most comprehensive Robin Williams biography we will ever get. It's not perfect, as I personally thought it got off to a slow start, but it does cover all the parts of his life including his childhood, career, and relationships with his wives, children, and friends. However there are still parts of Robin that remain a mystery although that's no fault of the author as it doesn't sound like Robin revealed every single thing about himself to people, even close friends.
The book delves into the subject of his death which was ruled a suicide. I don't think we will ever know the exact reason why he killed himself. It's possible he didn't want to live the rest of his days because he knew his mind was deteriorating due to what was originally diagnosed as Parkinson's, but was determined after his death to be Lewy body dementia. He also could have been experiencing an episode of paranoia which led to his death. I guess it doesn't really much matter though as the end result is the same.
I recommend reading this book if you want a good look at his life but I also think some of the different tv specials including the HBO documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind are worth watching as well. What an amazing talent! He is missed.
This was an entertaining biography of an incredible and unforgettable performer. I grew up watching Robin Williams' movies and TV antics and found him endearing.
Recently I watched the documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” which was a nice complement to this book because it showed footage of numerous scenes discussed in the text. I also recommend listening to the audiobook for “Robin,” which was wonderfully performed by Fred Berman.
Highly recommended for fans of the late great Robin Williams.
Genre: Biography Publisher: Henry Holt & Company Pub. Date: May 15, 2018
The author, Dave Itzkoff, is a culture reporter who writes about film, television, and comedy for The New York Times. Itzkoff writes this book as a combination of straight reporting and insightful analysis. This is a bittersweet biography; the author portrays the artist, Robin Williams, not as a tormented soul who ends his own life, but more as a tender man desperate for talent validation.
We all know that Robin was a comic genius. But not many, including myself, know that he had a great memory (some would say photographic). He could show up on sets, late and hung-over, often in the same clothes from the night before, to discover that the writers made major script changes while he was out partying. While other actors struggled and fumbled to remember the new lines, Robin would just glance it over once and proceed to nail it. This skill flabbergasted many over the years. From his breakthrough television role on “Mork and Mindy” to his long movie career, his stage shenanigans fascinated his audiences, especially when he switched characters on a dime. He was the king of improvisation. In the author’s (and my) opinion no other stand-up comedian came close. Just watching him perform, the man could exhaust you.
Like most biographies, the book begins when Williams was a child. The son of a well-to-do executive who had two older half-siblings who did not live with him growing up, Robin had a somewhat isolated youth, especially since his family frequently moved. He spent hours alone creating imaginary characters in his mind. It was in his teen years when the family moved to California, that he found acting. Over the decades, he learned to harness his manic talents and became a household name to be endeared by all. The author left me sadly wishing that Robin could absorb that his audience truly did love him.
According to the author, Robin was actually a sweet and shy man known for his caring nature. He was kind to people even while he fought his own darkness. He met Christopher Reeve when they both were studying acting at Julliard. Robin was politely asked to leave the school because there was nothing else that they could teach him. His style of improv was simply too bizarre for his teachers to understand. After Reeve’s accident, Robin helped pay for his medical equipment. He remained a loyal friend. When the Reeve family went on their first vacation with Chris in a wheelchair, Robin joined them just to keep his dear friend’s spirits from spiraling downwards as they often did.
Robin was also consistently honest about himself. While most celebrities go into a hospital for “exhaustion,” Robin was truthful about his demons. Whether in his stand-up acts or during interviews, he openly discussed his troubles with depression and addiction. He eventually conquered his addictions, but his self-esteem remained low throughout his life. He thought of himself as an ugly man since he was not the epitome of a movie star. Robin had hair tufts throughout his body. He did indeed have a hairy body, which embarrassed him. I couldn’t help but think his insecurities over his looks were so adolescent. But then again, in ways, the author shows that he never really grew up, preferring the company of children to adults. Off camera, he could play with his child co-stars endlessly. If he was in the company of a five-year-old, he became five-years-old. I confess, this reminds me of myself. Personally, I find it delightful to be able to connect with a child on their level.
He might not have seen himself as a handsome man, but women sure did. He wasn’t a faithful husband for two of his three wives. There were too many female temptations around him. He was a bit of a promiscuous player. However, he was an excellent father to his three children. After Robin’s death, it was his adult children who insisted that it couldn’t have been depression that caused their dad’s suicide. They are confident of this since they knew that even at his lowest he would never hurt them in any way. They were all in constant contact with him, they adored him and he adored them. What his fans learn via his family, is that in the months before his death Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He couldn’t remember his lines while filming his last movie. Can you imagine how this must have felt for a man with a photogenic memory? However, not until the coroner's report, three months after his death, did we learn that he was actually suffering from a little-known but deadly brain disease, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD.) LBD is a neurological disease that is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson. It was LBD that was causing his paranoia and confusion.
The author’s best writing moments are when he describes LBD symptoms. The last year of Robin’s life, the actor suffered from tremors, insomnia, impaired senses, and extreme anxiety. He had difficulty reasoning and was often hallucinating. When coherent, he told many that he was losing his mind. Sadly, he was. The disease was eating away at his brain. Throughout all of this, Robin remained clean and sober while searching for a possible cure. Reading how this gentle and sensitive man suffered put tears in my eyes. Itzkoff wrote an in-depth, impressively researched biography on the life of Robin Williams. At times, I felt the book is packed with too much detail on his career. There are dozens of pages with footnote citations. I feel that the author was torn between writing a scholarly research paper or a compassionate book on the actor. He tried to do both and I believe that he mostly succeeded.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
Goodness, this is long. I don't mean long as in "lots of pages", although there are, indeed, lots of pages. I mean long as in "goes on and on and on". Certainly the author has done extensive research, but it feels more like a long-form journalistic piece rather than a book. There is a huge amount of superfluous information provided - on distant family members, on the making of and reviews of lots of movies (not all of which had Robin in them), on the lives and loves of other celebrities, and so on. There's a very lengthy list of references at the end, quite a chunk of which consists of quotes from interviews conducted by the author - which would be fine, except that the quotes themselves were already used verbatim within the text. I wasn't convinced by the armchair psychology and was irritated by the hint-with-a-verbal-meaningful-look style. Williams was exceptional and wonderful and deserving of 5*. This book, not so much.
In-depth, informative and well researched book about a very special and unique talent. There is a great deal of sadness in comedy and this is another example of that truth. The loss of this talented genius is so very sad. I am thankful to have experienced his talent and very happy to watch again some of his movies.
I can clearly remember the moment I heard about Robin Williams' untimely passing. I was over at the Fringe in Edinburgh when I turned on the wifi on my phone one morning. It instantly lit up with notifications and messages. This was a human being who had touched many lives - his death was so abrupt and shocking that it felt like the world was mourning. Even though I was supposed to be enjoying my holidays, a sense of sadness overtook me.
This book was published not long afterwards. It attempts to uncover the man behind that loud and wacky persona, to investigate what really made him tick. And I think that it succeeds on that level. I also learned a lot of things that I didn't know about Williams, such as: - He grew up a in a wealthy family and lived in a series of mansions as his father moved about in his job with Ford - He was a very bright student and was taking a course in political science before he dropped out to pursue acting - I didn't realise how popular his stand-up comedy was. On this side of the pond, he is mostly known for his movies, so his HBO specials and Grammy for Best Comedy Album were news to me - His first major TV series, Mork and Mindy, was an instant hit, and Williams became a huge star in the US pretty much overnight - His movie career however, consisted of a string of flops for a number of years, until the script for Good Morning Vietnam fell into his lap
Itzkoff goes into detail about the sheer joy Williams received from performing, the intense rush that it gave him. But he also explores how tough the lifestyle of a comedian really is, and how Robin leaned on drugs and alcohol to get him through it. Even though he often mined it for laughs it in his stand-up routines, he struggled with addiction throughout his life.
The book also examines the last of years of Williams' life and it really is tragic to read about. He became extremely paranoid and his whole personality seemed to change. Friends found him unrecognizable. His suicide was a complete shock to his family, but we now know that he had been suffering from Lewy body dementia, a degenerative brain disease. His wife says that he knew he was losing his mind and he kept telling her that he needed to reboot it. For a man identified by his sharp wit, it must have been his worst nightmare.
You get a good sense of the kind of man Williams was from reading this book. A comic genius of course, but driven by the need for adulation, and often consumed by insecurity about his abilities. Being the film buff that I am, I would have enjoyed a more in-depth discussion of his movies, particularly the likes of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. But overall, this biography is a fitting tribute to the blazing talent and sad demise of Robin Williams. He truly was one of a kind.
I know three stars seems stingy when this book had so many glowing five star reviews, but here was my one problem with this incredibly comprehensive, thoughtful, well-researched biography: it had no spark. Robin Williams was an entertainer who, on both his best and worst days, was always interesting, always unpredictable, and always had the spark of something about him - the spark of genius, experimentation, manic energy, humanity, lust for approval, individuality, maybe even, at times, yes, a bit of insanity - but always a spark. This book, though thorough to a fault, is overly long and written like a textbook, plodding, straight-forward, lacking any of the characteristics of its subject matter. Dave Itzkoff can be commended for giving fans of Robin Williams vast knowledge of the details of his life, but for those of us looking for a book that captured the essence of the man himself and made the reader enjoy the journey, they will need to wait for a biography with a bit less detail and a lot more spark.
5 Stars for Robin (audiobook) by Dave Itzkoff read by Fred Berman.
For me, Robin Williams has been one of those uniquely talented people that’s been entertaining me for my whole life but I didn’t really know anything about his life. It was fascinating to hear about his childhood and learn what inspired him to act out different characters. And I would have never guessed that he had attended Juilliard.
Robin’s professional life and personal life had many more ups and downs than I had realized. He was in many more movies and TV shows than I thought. It sounds like he worked a lot but much of it wasn’t very satisfying. And there was more information about his death. The medical examiner had a new diagnosis that may have affected his state of mind at the end of his life.
When he was at the top of his form, Robin Williams was the craziest, most intense comedian. He was a bright light among a lot of dull bulbs in Hollywood. Itzkoff has presented us with a full complex biography of Williams that traces his path from childhood to his end when his flame blew out. From Williams' childhood among armies of toy soldiers to his adventures in the San Francisco comedy clubs, from his struggles with celebrity status and fears of the fleeting character of success, to his three marriages, and his final agonizing decline into dementia, it's all here. By the time you read about how this towering giant of comedy ended, even though you know it's coming, it still hits you like a shock.
Itzkoff is absolutely thorough in this biography, detailing all the twists and turns of Williams' career, including the various studio decisions about Mork and Mindy and each of Williams' movies. You tend to forget how few of them were really successful when you remember Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, and Jumanji. It is, be warned, a lengthy volume of well over five hundred pages and there's probably more material here than a casual fan needs. But, it is well written and give a most revealing look at Williams' life.
I really enjoyed this biography. It gave me insight into Robin's life and mind, and even some insight into my own.
I would say, however, to avoid the audiobook. The narrator attempts to do Robin's voices while narrating. The narrator does a passable job, but no one could do the voices the way Robin did them, so when the narrator tries to do Robin doing the Genie from Aladdin, all it does is remind you you're not listening to Robin Williams. It felt disrespectful to me in a way. I wish I'd read the book instead of listened to it.
I also have an issue with the author twice using the N word. Once it was the title of Richard Pryor's standup album, the other time it was in part of a skit. Neither time was necessary.
The moment I knew that Robin Williams was a genius was when he did an impression of Mother Teresa with nothing more than a napkin dangling over his hand. How daringly creative was that!
His whole life, he served others. He lived to make us laugh. He was a master of improvisation.He could memorize a script in a single sitting,even after partying hard the night before. And he also became a great actor of movies, as well, taking on some very serious and deeply touching roles. He gave to others in many, many ways. He was a gentle and loving person. Not perfect, but none of us are. ....He helped to raise millions through "Comic Relief" and always made sure that the homeless were given jobs on his films. His final years were extremely difficult. What was diagnosed as Parkinson's Disease turned out to be something much more devastating, Lewy body dementia. He committed suicide after a valiant struggle to find a way to get better.
One of Robin's early characters is known as the Old Man, it is Robin seeing himself at sixty. I feel here he spoke to us as his most vulnerable self, and that it truly is his message for others:
"From me to you. You got to be crazy. You know what I'm talking about? Full goose bozo. 'Cause what is reality? You got to be crazy! You got to! 'Cause madness is the only way I've stayed alive. Used to be a comedian. Used to, a long time ago. It's true. You got to go full tilt bozo. 'Cause you're only given a little spark of madness. If you lose that, you're nothing. Don't. From me to you. Don't ever lose that, because it keeps you alive. Because if you lose that, pffft! That's my only love. Crazy."
I was in the kitchen preparing lunch for my toddler when my husband came in, with a stricken look on his face. "Robin Williams died. They think he killed himself."
I'll be the first to admit that celebrities are treated like superheroes who are put up on a pedestal revered as gods. Most of the time,its unwarranted. But I feel like there are certain celebrities whom we just resonate with, who invoke emotions within us that touch us deeply, whose deaths hurt way worse than others.
For me, it's always Robin. I cannot believe that in a few months we will be approaching the 5 year anniversary of his death. It still hurts. It still makes me cry. Here it is, March 21 2019, and I'm watching clip after clip on YouTube of some of my favorite moments of his- going on David Letterman dressed as a surgeon after Letterman returned from heart surgery, his Broadway comedy special which still gets played on heavy rotation in my house, and my upmost favorite- him winning the 1998 Academy Award for my favorite movie, Good Will Hunting - the sheer joy and genuine laughter as he accepts the Golden trophy, and the heartfelt hug from host Billy Crystal as he embraces his longtime friend on stage. What a beautiful moment. And I still sob.
There are so many reasons why his death has haunted me and hurts even after all of these years. A close friend of mine passed away in a similar fashion because of a similar situation (having a terminal debilitating disease where she found no other way out). The notion that someone who funny and charming could be hiding a darkness within themselves and so many people were oblivious is so gut-wrenching. The man WAS my childhood. I missed out on the early Robin- Mork & Mindy, on Johnny Carson, Comic Relief, dressing up as a Cowboys cheerleader. I have never seen The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, or Awakenings . But I lived and breathed Aladdin, Jumanji, Hook, Jack, Nine Months and so many others.
For me, this is why Robin's death hurts and hurts the most over any other. In 1993, my parents were going through a nasty divorce. My dad had openly cheated on my mom and eventually married the Other Woman. They fought right in front of us, and outwardly ignored us as they screamed their rage at each other. My dad would drop in and out of our lives, only showing up when it was convenient to him As an 11 year old it was devastating.
One night, my mom announced we needed to get our minds off the divorce and decided we needed a fun night at the movies. A new movie just opened up, about a guy who dresses up like an old lady. His fake boobs catch on fire in the trailer- HILARIOUS ANTICS! I am of course talking about Mrs. Doubtfire . While it was and is still a hilarious movie with lines that will stand up through the test of time "My first day as a woman and I'm getting hot flashes!" "It was a run-by fruiting!", and my personal favorite, "We're his Goddamn kids, too!".
But do you all remember the theme of the movie? Divorce? Parents fighting? Kids never seeing their dad much? At first, the movie was a knife to the heart. But then the ending happened. Not only did it change the movie for me, it changed my outlook on Robin WIlliams. He was no longer just a funny actor. He was a guy who delivered the most important speech of my 11 year old life. Years later, I realize he was just saying lines from a script. But that's irrelevant. This speech changed me, for the better. I honestly believe this speech saved my little 11 year old heart from being totally obliterated.
"You know, some parents, when they're angry, they get along much better when they don't live together. They don't fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don't, dear. And if they don't, don't blame yourself. Just because they don't love each other anymore, doesn't mean that they don't love you. There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country - and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months... even years at a time. But if there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you poppet, you're going to be alright..."
5 years later since he's died. 5 years and it's still as raw and painful for me as ever. Tonight, after the kids are asleep I will grab my glass of wine, grab a blanket and watch Good Will Hunting for the billionth time, because seeing his face and hearing his astounding speeches in that movie helps.
Where were you when you heard that Robin Williams had died?
I was so stunned and grieved at this loss that I honestly wondered if something was wrong with me. I had admired Williams since Mork “uncorked” in the late 1970s, and for decades I enjoyed his work, but after all, he was a complete stranger. I had never met him; why did my heart drop to my toes and stay there for a while when he left us? But as the internet exploded and friends also responded, I understood that it wasn’t just me. He was so raw, so vulnerable in so much of what he did on screen that he became, in a way unlike most entertainers, a part of who we were.
Huge thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt for the review copy. This book is for sale now.
Williams grew up in a well-to-do family, an only child that didn’t learn he had half-brothers till adolescence. His invented characters began in private during childhood with his large collection of toy soldiers, for which he invented complex lives and scenarios; in middle school he began assuming the voices of invented characters as self-defense socially. From his school days all the way through his life, those that spent time with him personally or professionally said that he was unknowable, and he admitted in an interview that in many ways, he was “performing to avoid.”
But none of us knew that when he burst onto the airwaves; all we knew was that this actor was manic, hilarious, audacious, insightful, and unpredictable. Itzkoff deftly segues in and through each period in Williams’ life, through his marriages, parenthood, and friendships, and of course, through the enormous body of artistic work that he amassed over his lifetime. There are perceptive quotes by those that knew him, some wry, some surprisingly hostile, and many of them pithy, and it boggles the imagination to consider how many of these the author began with before he whittled them down to just the right size and number, to provide as complete an account as is possible without allowing the pace to flag.
My favorite parts have to do with behind-the-scenes vignettes from the Robin Williams movies I most enjoyed. One interesting anecdote concerns the making of Dead Poets Society. Disney deemed the title to be too risky; nobody wants to watch something dead, they figured, and so why not change the title to “The Amazing Mr. Keating”? Robin and other cast members laughed; the producers laughed; then they told the Disney people that production would stop immediately if such an attempt were made.
Although usually even well-known movie actors have to audition for Disney animation voice roles just like anyone else would, an exception of great proportions was made for Williams, and in fact, the role of the genie in Aladdin was written for him specifically. Try to imagine that movie without him. Impossible!
I tore voraciously through this absorbing biography of this truly brilliant performer, but as the end neared, the pace of my reading slowed, because I knew, more or less, how it would end. I would have liked the chance to change it, but nobody can do that. It’s a sad, rotten thing to see such a bright star fall so tragically.
Itzkoff’s sources are strong ones, and his tone is intimate without being prurient, affectionate but not fawning. I would read this biographer’s work again in a heartbeat.
We all knew Robin Williams was a genius; but most of us didn't know the intimate details that made up the man, and ultimately, his death. We knew he was an intellectual, studied drama at Julliard before he left after 3 years to devote his life to comedy and acting. Even Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist he portrayed in the film, "Awakenings," marveled at the workings of Robin's brain. In "Robin," Dave Itzkoff leaves no stone unturned. He spoke to everyone and anyone who knew or worked with Robin, including his family and especially his adult children. He researched every aspect of Robin's life from his childhood in Detroit to his family's move to San Francisco. Robin took to California lifestyle like a fish to water. He started working locally acting in small plays, studying acting and carefully working with Improv groups. As he got better friends urged him to try the bigger comedy clubs in L.A. to try stand-up. His following grew which eventually led to a new show, "Mork & Mindy." Fame hit, then meteoric rise, drugs and alcohol, all while working constantly. Robin needed an audience, affirmation that he was good at his craft either comedy or acting. He thrived on it like oxygen; and couldn't live without it. Eventually, the physical toll caught up with him; he had major heart surgery to fix a faulty valve. After recuperation he wanted to tour again but different physical ailments began to surface. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But Robin told a few close comedy friends, "he felt like he was loosing his mind." For someone so brilliant, so quick, with an ardent memory; "if he didn't have his mind, then what was he?" We know that Robin took his own life. What many of us may not know was the final findings of Robin's brain, done three weeks after his death. "Diffuse Lewy body dementia (DLBD, aka diffuse Lewy body disease). Frequently presents with Parkinson's motor symptoms." "....documented the presence of a devastating brain disorder that accounted for much of what Robin was experiencing in his final years and had never been fully diagnosed in his lifetime." Robin gave us his fans unending joy during his lifetime. I thank him for that. I also thank the people who had the sense to record his talents in various ways so I and others can pop in a DVD and watch and hear him whenever we want. (which I did!) What a concept!
Thank you NetGalley, Holt Publishing, and Dave Itzkoff.
Biography of Robin Williams, including his childhood, schooling, comedic performances, relationships, children, television shows, movies, substance abuse issues, recovery, and health issues. His suicide is covered in a respectful manner. Dave Itzkoff provides an in-depth profile. He includes many direct quotations from Robin’s friends and several family members.
The book seems candid, revealing Robin’s foibles as well as his gifts. It gives the reader a sense of the factors that may have contributed to his death. Robin is portrayed as a caring person with emotional insecurities and an agile mind. The book is well-organized and informative. I could have done without the discussion of the legal hassles regarding the settlement of his estate.
I listened to the audio book, brilliantly read by Fred Berman. Berman reads at a quick pace, and when quoting Robin, does a passable impression of his manic style. Recommended to those who are curious to learn more about the life of this unique and talented man.
I remember exactly how I felt nearly five years ago when I heard the news that Robin Williams had passed away. I was hurt, to the point that I was near tears. This reaction honestly shocked me. I remember asking myself "why are you reacting this way? You've never even met the guy?" He was a stranger to me, and yet I was reacting like a good friend had just died.
I saw this book at Barnes & Noble recently and knew I had to read it. There was something about Robin that I always admired. His persona made you gravitate towards him. He was hilarious, and his comedy had brought him fame, but he always seemed to be a genuinely nice person. Listening to this book, which is narrated excellently by Fred Berman (he even talks faster and more animatedly when quoting Robin), confirmed this. Robin was not a perfect saint - he definitely had his vices - but he genuinely cared about others and found joy in making them laugh. I became hooked to this book in a way that I didn't think I could to a biography. I didn't want to stop listening. Hearing the behind the scenes stories associated with some of my favorite movies and characters - Genie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, etc. - was great, but learning more about Robin's zany personality and quick wit was fascinating. I laughed out loud on more occasions than I can keep track of.
Robin was known as a comedian, but he was so much more than that. This biography shows how much thought he truly gave to each of his roles. There are many projects he worked on that may not have had the commercial appeal that Mrs. Doubtfire had, but inspired him, or had a message he related to and wanted to share. Even with his slapstick roles, he always went into them with the intent to brighten an audience's day. He loved making people laugh, almost to his own detriment.
When I came to the end of the book and listened to the information about his final days, his suicide, and the reactions and words from his closest friends and family, I found myself again in tears, but had a better understanding of my reaction this time. For me, Robin Williams was a kindred spirit, which was confirmed to me after reading about his life. I don't have even an ounce of his comedic genius, but, like him, I have always loved to make people laugh. Not because I thought it made me more popular or anything like that, but because seeing that joy in others brought me joy. Like Robin, I hate confrontation and avoid it at all costs. He would go to great lengths to make people happy, even to the point of giving up his own happiness. I may have never met him, but I felt like he was a close friend.
If you are a fan of Robin Williams, if you grew up watching Genie's antics, Peter Banning learn to fly again, Daniel Hillard transform into Euphegenia Doubtfire, or any other character that was brought to life by Robin's talents, read this biography. Robin led an interesting life, and although it has a sad ending, reading this will help Robin further his mission of making you laugh one more time.
BIG thanks to Henry Holt for providing my free copy of ROBIN by Dave Itzkoff - all opinions are my own.
This book is incredible, but also a difficult one for me. Robin Williams has been one of my favorite actors for many years, so it was a shock when he passed away in 2014. He was such a gem in the acting world, flourishing in any genre from drama to comedy. He had a heart of gold and one could see the generosity in his eyes in every part he played. He moved so fast in his standup and television appearances, but knew exactly when to dial it back for movies like Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. And even though he was his high-speed, brilliant self in one of my favorite films The Fisher King, there’s that dramatic big reveal at the end that gets me every time.
This well-written, meticulously researched biography covers everything from Williams’ career, to his friends and family life. Done through several interviews, I love that we see different perspectives of his life from the people closest to him, giving a more accurate, well-rounded portrayal. In addition to including details from past interviews with Robin, Itzkoff interviewed plenty of people, including Robin’s parents and children, Billy Crystal, Garry Marshall, and David Letterman to name a few. As a culture reporter for the New York Times, Itzkoff’s occupation shines through on this piece. ROBIN chronicles Williams’ life from childhood up until his passing and is a dense 544 pages, but well worth a read. We learn firsthand the anxiety he suffered, his successes, flaws, and the illness that ultimately led to taking his own life. But we also see the comedic genius, his larger than life talent, and the one-of-a-kind, quiet soul that was Robin.
“And when he was gone, we all wished we’d had him just a little bit longer.”
This is incredibly informative and marvelously written. Combine Fred Berman's excellent narration and you get a Fantastic end product.
I grew up knowing Robin Williams as a successful actor; producing wonderful films for my entertainment. I never released all the heartaches, hard work and loyalty that went into the man I came to know. This book made me stop and think about how we assume things. For instance, all high profile actors must be happy and have all the help they can afford at the snap of a finger. It was a real eye-opener to realize that everyone – GREAT and SMALL – struggles with the same things.
My heart still weeps for the brilliant man we lost.
End Note: I belive in all awareness campains
Lewy body dementia Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease dementia. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control). Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. People with Lewy body dementia may experience visual hallucinations and changes in alertness and attention. Other effects include Parkinson's disease-like signs and symptoms such as rigid muscles, slow movement and tremors.
I’m very glad I picked this book up last week. I was casting about trying to find an audiobook that caught my attention. I had started this almost a year ago, but wasn’t in the right frame of mind so I didn’t continue. This time was different, even if it was sometimes hard to follow what with most of the book direct quotes from people in Robin’s life.
At any rate, I loved Robin Williams when I was growing up and beyond having seen Mork and Mindy and most of his movies and I found the background information, the circumstances, how each movie and event in his life affected him was really enlightening. His struggles and triumphs were made quite vivid and gave me a deeper appreciation for him as a person and as an entertainer. There really was no other like him.
It really is so sad how he died and although no one can know for sure what was the real motivation for his suicide, the posthumous diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia is very poignant and explains a lot. It’s truly awful how quickly it incapacitated a man who was frighteningly intelligent and placed so much trust in his own quick wit, physicality and humility. And he couldn’t figure out what was happening to him. The Parkinson’s diagnosis explained some things but was never truly satisfactory. It was so much worse. He knew he was losing it and couldn’t stop it. Some of the Parkinson’s medication may even have made some aspects (hallucinations, suicidal tendencies) of LB Dementia worse. Sadly, it is something that is often only diagnosed after a long time with the illness.
It really makes me sad that this amazing human being was stopped in his tracks. At least we have a raft of movies and appearances to fall back on for our Robin Williams fix.
Robin Williams always felt especially inaccessible to me. In interviews some stars give at least the impression that they're revealing parts of their inner selves, but Williams seemed to be all shtick, all the time, always doing his impressions, giving one punchline after another. At times it felt like he was saying something authentic, but then he'd launch into some exaggerated Shakespearean accent, and I was left scratching my head.
Dave Itzkoff gives us a fairly comprehensive biography of the man. He introduces us to Williams' eccentric parents, describes his lonely childhood (largely spent playing alone in a suburban mansion), and proceeds to take us through all the major ups and downs of his life. Most of those interviewed for the book didn't seem to truly know the man, and Williams himself never delivered that soul-baring confession that his fans wanted. And yet by simply telling this story in so much detail -- by showing, not telling -- we're left feeling that we really do know him. And the real Robin Williams, it turns out, was a man as complex and fascinating as any character he ever played. Selfish, altruistic, sad, inspiring, a larger-than-life icon who never stopped being an insecure boy convinced that he could only be loved if he made others laugh.
I especially recommend the audiobook. Fred Berman aptly narrates the story and absolutely excels when quoting Williams himself, as he has a beautiful way of sounding like Williams without ever slipping into caricature.
Don't get me wrong - I think Robin Williams was a magician, a one of a kind comedian who had the ability to make us shake with laughter at times and still show us a bit of his vulnerable side. This biography chronicles his life, from growing up reasonably well off, to making his name in comedy clubs in San Francisco and LA, his Mork and Mindy days, then finding fame in movies.
I just found that reading this book felt like reading a sports or political memoir, with lots of changes of scenes and characters but little of the spark of the real person, that the written descriptions of them is unable to capture their charisma, to show us how they moved in the world and interact with others. Maybe it was a little bit because I knew that this particular story was going to end in tragedy, that we were all touched by Robin Williams and the laughter he had given us over the years, that we all felt sad that he struggled to find his own peace.
I have been absorbed in this book for a couple of weeks now. When i finished it this morning, i felt like i had some closure in a personal relationship with robin williams. I was so sad for him and his family, as if i had made his life’s journey right at their side.
Itzkoff really benefitted from an obviously close and personal collaboration with robin williams’ family and friends, particularly his eldest son, zak, and his wife, alex, and close family friend billy crystal.
An intimate and heartfelt biography that will stay with me for a long time. I’m so glad to have gotten to know robin williams through this fine piece of writing.
A very comprehensive look into the life and career of one of my most beloved comedy actors. It is a perfect companion to the HBO documentary “Come Inside My Mind”, some of the interviews are verbatim; such as the ones with Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, his ex wife Valarie etc. but it still makes for an interesting read, even if you have seen the documentary beforehand. The descriptions of Robin’s final years are poignant and moving, especially the words of his son Zak. I feel as though Robin’s story is important, because despite how much he was struggling with his own inner demons, he strived (and succeeded) to make others laugh and smile. I think that is a beautiful thing.
I have and always will love Robin Williams. Not only did he make me laugh until I cried, he could make me cry in sympathy for him in his serious roles. My heart broke when I heard of his passing, and to this day I still can't believe he is gone. If you're a fan, I highly recommend this book. It is a well written and researched biography about a wonderfully talented man that everyone loved and few understood.