Culture & Literature
PEOPLE Robin Williams

PEOPLE Robin Williams

PEOPLE Robin Williams

It was as simple as “Nanu Nanu.” The improvisational genius that was Mork from Ork skyrocketed Robin Williams into public consciousness where he would quickly become an entertainment and cultural icon. Five years after his tragic passing, the editors at People bring you this new commemorative issue, ‘Robin Williams.’ Revisit “The Man in Constant Motion,” beginning with his lonely childhood and audacious early years in “Young Robin.” Fasten your seatbelts and travel “Out of This World” to remember his wild, transformational work on the sitcom ‘Mork & Mindy’ and “His Brilliant Career,” including his “Roles of a Lifetime” with unforgettable performances in films like ‘Awakenings,’ ‘Good Morning Vietnam,’ ‘Dead Poets Society,’ and ‘Good Will Hunting,’ for which he won an Oscar. Explore the profound paradox that such a comic genius was plagued by demons in “The Man Behind the Laughter,” and go “Inside His Final Days” to learn the heartbreaking details of his struggle with mysterious symptoms. Finally, listen to friends, co-stars and family “In Praise of Robin” as they celebrate the generous man and brilliant career of a singular talent.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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in this issue

5 min.
man in constant motion

‘HE WAS THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN A COMEDY GALAXY. BUT WHILE SOME OF THE BRIGHTEST OF OUR CELESTIAL BODIES ARE ACTUALLY EXTINCT NOW, THEIR ENERGY LONG SINCE COOLED, MIRACULOUSLY THEIR BEAUTIFUL LIGHT WILL CONTINUE TO SHINE ON US FOREVER, AND THE GLOW WILL BE SO BRIGHT IT’LL WARM YOUR HEART’—BILLY CRYSTAL WE FIRST MET ROBIN WILLIAMS as the gleeful alien at the center of the hit sitcom Mork & Mindy. The 1978-82 series provided an ideal showcase for the comedian, whose improvisations and bursts of wit left audiences doubled over in laughter. Williams soon became a movie star, appearing in memorable films like Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire and picked up four Oscar nominations during his career, taking home the trophy for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. Warm…

6 min.
young robin

I FEEL ROBIN WAS PUT ON EARTH to make us laugh,” the woman who introduced him to this planet—his mom, Laurie Williams—once said of her son. The most wildly inventive wit of his time did not arise from mean urban streets, immigrant roots, a marginalized minority or any archetypal origin of comic talent. But then Robin Williams was nothing if not sui generis. Born in Chicago on July 21, 1951, to Laurie and her husband, Robert, an executive for Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln-Mercury division, he grew up a wealthy Episcopalian, spending a good stretch of his childhood rattling around a 30-room rented mansion in the exclusive Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Robin’s two half brothers were considerably older, and so he was essentially raised as an only child—one who…

7 min.
out of this world

ALL THINGS ARE RELATIVE in outer space—just as in Hollywood. And so, a few moments after 8 p.m. on Thurs., Sept. 14, 1978, when Robin Williams’s Mork from Ork floated gently to Earth in a spaceship that looked like a plastic pantyhose container, viewers were witness not to a descent and landing but to a launch. The Mork & Mindy premiere put its star on a career trajectory from Nobody You Ever Heard Of to Household Name at warp speed. As fast as fans learned to say “Nanu nanu!” and “Shazbot,” Williams was TV’s hottest new star, with his nonsense catchphrases on every kid’s lips and his likeness on all manner of Mork merch, from dolls, action figures, activity books and lunch boxes to Orkian bubble gum, packaged in a plastic…

7 min.
his brilliant career

ONCE MORK & MINDY ESTABLISHED Robin Williams as a TV star in 1978, the next step in the natural progression of Hollywood was to discover how he might play at the movie theater. But what kind of star could Williams be? Mork tapped to an astounding, unclassifiable, maybe even freakish comic gift: a rather meek-looking man with a wide, thin, uncomfortable mouth would explode with mimetic skill, evangelical fervor and wild flights of associative humor that would have defeated the most practiced Freudian. He was adorable but unknowable. He wasn’t a personality—not an Eddie Murphy or a Bill Murray. He seemed to be some sort of genius. Yet after trial and error, Williams established himself as a genuine, even beloved movie star, with a list of credits that included big hits, sentimental…

11 min.
roles of a lifetime

1984 MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON Robin Williams came fully into his own as a movie star in this warmhearted, melancholic comedy. Playing a bearded Russian musician who defects from the Soviet Union while visiting New York City, he created a deeply felt portrait of a man embracing a new life and home even as he mourned his lost one. Williams, who earned a Golden Globe nod for the role, did it all here: He laughed, cried, tooted on the saxophone and credibly spoke in Russian for the first third of the film, having studied the language intensively for months prior to filming. Moscow on the Hudson marked Williams’s fourth major celluloid role after rocketing to sitcom stardom on Mork & Mindy. He hadn’t exactly lit up the big screen in his earlier forays.…

3 min.
the man behind the laughter

LIKE ALL OF US, Robin Williams was complicated, though perhaps a little more so—after all, it must have taken an idiosyncratic combination of molecules to produce such an astonishingly outré intellect. Who was the essential human being behind Williams’s mercurial mind? Something of a Russian doll, it seems, enigmatic even to friends—as journalist Dave Itzkoff notes in his 2018 biography Robin, “he shared the authentic person at his core with considerable reluctance.” By all accounts, though, Williams was a genuinely modest, kind and giving soul with what Mork & Mindy costar Pam Dawber called “a gigantic heart.” This he displayed not only publicly—through Comic Relief anti-poverty fund-raisers and other charity work as well as many USO tours to entertain battle-weary American troops—but also when nobody was looking. After his death,…