The world lost a friend today. Most people who loved him never actually met him, but he was a friend nonetheless. There’s an image that pops into everyone’s head when they hear his name, and whether it’s a loony alien, a wish-granting genie, or a polite British nanny, that image will always be with you. That man was Robin Williams.
A shy boy, Robin found his love of acting in high school and was accepted to Julliard in 1973. A guest-starring role as an alien named Mork on Happy Days lead to a spin-off series called Mork and Mindy that lasted four years on ABC and made Williams a household name. It’s no wonder that he caught the attention of executives at Disney.
His first project with the Mouse House was a live-action film based on the animated series Popeye, a coproduction with Paramount. Disney took a chance on casting Williams in his first serious role in Good Morning Vietnam, which earned him his first Oscar nomination and won him a Golden Globe. This was quickly followed by Dead Poets Society. When Disney/MGM Studios opened in 1989 at Walt Disney World, Williams was heavily featured in The Magic of Disney Animation attraction with Walter Cronkite, where the two went “Back to Neverland.”
His Aladdin contract has become somewhat legendary. Williams didn’t want his name associated with the film in marketing and there were also limitations on how much the character could be used in advertising materials. When Disney broke these rules, Williams was so upset that he refused to work with them again until years later after Katzenberg had left. But before the feud, Williams leant his voice to another theme park attraction for Disney called The Timekeeper, which appeared in Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and Walt Disney World.
His return to Disney was in 1996 when he voiced Genie again in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. He played Professor Brainard in Flubber, the 1997 remake of The Absent-Minded Professor. He finally won an Oscar that same year for Good Will Hunting, a Miramax film under Disney’s ownership. His final work for Disney was in 2009 with the buddy-comedy Old Dogs.
Robin Williams was a genius when it came to creating unique characters that could touch your heart. Outside of his Disney work, my favorite film roles of his are Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, and The Birdcage. Williams had this magical way of being funny, yet loveable and empathetic at the same time. He was a gifted individual and we were lucky to have received the gifts he gave. There will truly never be a friend like him again.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.