Robin Williams was a legend. There was no one who was ever like him. And it's very unlikely there will ever be someone exactly like him. He was a one-of-a-kind comedic genius. He was also a rare performer who could do dramatic work as well as comedy, and find commercial success in both.
When the funnyman passed away in August 2014, it left a big hole in Hollywood and our hearts. There was definite sadness, but Robin's passing also made us look back at his work and how he changed film and TV — all while making us smile. We remembered the times he made us laugh through his iconic roles. You don't need us to repeat any of the lines to you because you can likely quote them at the drop of a hat. Instead, we're highlighting some interesting facts about the actor. Get ready to seriously increase your Robin Williams knowledge. Scroll through the gallery to see 40 interesting Robin Williams facts.
Robin Williams was a king of impersonations. Nay, he was the king. Stop for a second and consider the number of voices he could run through in a rapid-fire speed during one of his monologues. He could impersonate practically anyone. Because of his range, you might think it would be hard for him to pick a favorite impersonation. It turns out he had one. His favorite celebrity to impersonate was apparently Jack Nicholson. (You can take a look at it here.) Some of his other many impersonations included Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan and Keith Richards.
20th Century Fox
There are celebrities with some very random college degrees, especially when we consider where they ended up. Robin didn't end up graduating from a random college program, but his post-high school plans weren't what you would have expected. After graduating from Redwood High School in California in 1969, he enrolled at Claremont Men's College in Claremont, California, to study political science. For real. We know that he liked to do political satire, but political science? You likely aren't surprised to hear that he dropped out of the college so he could pursue acting. Imagine if he stuck with the course and ended up in the field...
After dropping out of the Claremont Men's College, Robin made good on his plan to pursue acting. First up, he attended the College of Marin, in Kentfield, California to study theater. He spent three years at the school and there are reports that his teachers recognized his special talent even back then. After gaining laughs at the college, Robin was awarded a full scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. He was just one of 20 freshmen to enter into the program in 1973. His other soon-to-be-famous classmates included Christopher Reeve and Mandy Patinkin. Robin left the school in his junior year, at the suggestion of his professors, because they didn't feel the school's classic style would benefit him anymore.
If you know some of Robin's more adult material, you might raise your eyebrows to hear that he got his start doing a comedy workshop in a church. It's not a joke, it's a fact. It came about after he attended Juilliard and ended up back in San Francisco. He found out about how the church had the comedy workshop and decided it had potential. "I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don't get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he recounted to NPR. "And then I started to realize, 'Oh.' [I started] building an act from there." Who would have thought?
Are you wondering about Robin's other interests? Here's a fun tidbit for you: The actor was a big video game fan. Fellow video game fans often asked if he named his daughter, Zelda Rae Williams, after the popular video game character from "The Legend of Zelda." He revealed in a Reddit AMA that it was actually his son Zachary who came up with the idea to name his baby sister after the character. It turned out the rest of the family was into the idea. Robin was also known to perform at entertainment/video game events from time to time.
Here's one of the Robin Williams facts from his early, pre-showbiz life. Robin was born in Chicago, Illinois. His mom Laurie McLaurin, was a former model. His dad, Robert Fitzgerald Williams, was a senior executive in Ford Motor Company's Lincoln-Mercury Division. The family seemed pretty well off. When Robert Sr. was transferred to Detroit, the family supposedly lived in a large farmhouse with 40 rooms and a maid. When Papa Williams decided to retire early, the family uprooted once again and moved to Marin County, California. Because of the moves, Robin attended a few different schools growing up. He might have said he was shy but his friends could see how funny he was.
Robin Williams was a very talkative guy. It's hard to believe there were quiet moments in his house. Yet when he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, he openly admitted to being thunderstruck. He revealed in his speech, "This might be the one time I'm speechless." He then started on his list of people to thank that included Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and the film's director Gus Van Sant. He thanked his dad by looking to the sky and saying, "Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, 'Wonderful, just have a back-up profession like welding.'" Trouble was, Robin completely forgot about his mom. Ad she was in the audience!
It seems that Robin saw the potential of the internet long before YouTube, Vine (RIP) and podcasts became mainstream things. Back in 2000, the actor started an internet talk show. It was exclusively on Audible, which is an Amazon company. After Robin passed away, Audible CEO Don Katz shared an email with The Observer publicly that he sent to his staff about the talk show and Robin. He explained that Robin's show was their first original program and it was devised in one day at Robin's home. The show had a biweekly format and he had a range of people on it including George Lucas, Oliver Sachs, and Bonnie Raitt. Robin even helped spread the word about Audible and its new technology by attending events.
We all know that high school can be a messed up time and people's peers can totally miss out on something special. It seems that Robin's peers were only halfway there at figuring him out. When he graduated from Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, he was voted "Funniest" but also voted "Most Likely Not to Succeed" by the other students. What gives? We're not sure if the students thought that being funny meant that you couldn't be successful for some reason. Clearly, Robin would prove them all wrong by attending Juilliard and going on to do amazing things in the entertainment industry.
Walt Disney Pictures
This is one of those Robin Williams facts that seems so random and wild that it has to be true. After all, a Pablo Picasso painting? The story apparently goes that the funny guy took issue that Disney was using his voice to sell Aladdin merchandise. (Remember that he played the Genie in the movie.) Robin revealed in interviews that he refused to sell stuff. Additionally, part of his deal with Disney was he took a huge pay cut ($75,000 compared to his typical $8 million) so he would do the role and have something for the kids. When Disney dubbed over the Genie character to sell stuff, they originally defended the choice and reportedly said Robin agreed. Then they sent Robin a Picasso painting where the artist imagined himself as Vincent van Gogh. And the painting had a value of a whopping $1 million.
Remember how we said that Christopher Reeve attended the Juilliard School the same time as Robin Williams? The two of them were actually really good friends. Additionally, they were the only two students in their year to be selected for Juilliard's Advanced Program. They still remained close after they graduated and went their separate ways to carve paths in the entertainment industry. When Christopher was left paralyzed in 1995 after riding horseback, it's reported that Robin visited him in the hospital. It's even said that he dressed up as a doctor and made jokes with Christopher to try and boost his spirits. Talk about a great friend.
Here is one of the less-known, interesting Robin Williams facts that show a more personal side of him. If you followed the actor on his Instagram, you will know that a lot of his photos featured his four-legged friends. A number of adorable pooches were showcased including his assistant's dog the brilliantly named Miss Verna Pearl, who he also referred to as "his road dog." His rescue dog, a pug named Leonard, was another star of his Instagram. Robin also used his social media pages to highlight the benefits of adopting rescue pets.
Robin Williams was one person you couldn't imagine being silent for very long. Consider how fast he could talk during some of his sketches. So, it's really surprising to find out he would do something that involved no talking. Yet, the actor was actually a mime. After Robin's passing in 2014, the story of a photographer snapping Robin as a mime went viral. It was 1974 and photographer Daniel Sorine took a picture of Robin and Todd Oppenheimer in full mime outfits. He didn't know who either one was at the time but realized it when he later looked back at the photos after Robin had made his name. Robin was a mime in Central Park the same time he was attending the Juilliard School.
King Features Syndicate
Acting and comedy were Robin's most well-known passions, but they weren't his only ones. One interest he had outside of Hollywood was cycling. It is reported that he became involved in the sport after battling his addiction to drugs. Through biking, he became friends with professional road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong. Robin participated in a number of charity cycling events and he even went to different competitions around the world, including visiting Lance during the Tour de France. The actor also fused his philanthropy work with his love of biking by donating 87 bicycles to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
We have already told you that Jack Nicholson was Robin's all-time favorite person to impersonate. What about the flip side of people doing impressions of him? It turns out the funny man loved Dana Carvey's impression of himself. Dana is an actor and stand-up comedian who was known on Saturday Night Live for his range of epic impressions and characters. You likely know Hans and Franz, Garth Algar from Wayne's World and The Church Lady. If you haven't seen Dana's Robin Williams impression, there are lots of videos circulating the Internet. Check them out. You will not be disappointed. Trust us.
It's a common thing nowadays to see singer-actor-models and the like, but there are people who fit into the category more than others. We knew Robin could do dramatic and comedic performances, but a Grammy? Where was the singing? Remember that Grammy Awards don't necessarily need to be about singing. The comedian won the 1980 Best Comedy Album Grammy for his 1979 live show, Reality ... What a Concept, at the Copacabana in New York. Additionally, he won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for A Night at the Met, the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for Good Morning Vietnam and the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for Robin Williams Live – 2002.
Everyone now knows what a big dog lover Robin was. It seems that he had a soft spot for all animals because he also had a special friendship with a gorilla. Robin met Hanabiko "Koko" the Gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. She was famous for knowing the most signs of American Sign Language. She apparently met Robin after watching some of his movies and there are reports that she appeared to recognize him. It's said by the Koko Foundation that Robin even made her smile after she was deeply saddened after her mate died. The Koko Gorilla Foundation shared a statement after Robin's death and included the video of their first famous meeting.
Mork & Mindy was the television series that propelled Robin to fame. Mork the alien from the planet Ork first appeared on Happy Days and was such a hit that he was given his own spin-off show, hence Mork & Mindy. Yet, Robin almost wasn't Mork at all. Happy Days writer-producer Brian Levant explained that Dom DeLuise had booked the part but then dropped out, then their second person, Roger Rees left. The execs were in a bind because it was two days from filming. One associate producer had seen Robin do an alien act at a showcase and managed to track him down in time for filming. Talk about the stars aligning.
Remember what we said about how Robin forgot to thank his mom when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar? Well, that makes this point even more awkward. The funny guy started flexing his comedic chops when he was young because he wanted to get his mom's attention and get her to laugh. Awwww. Clearly, he was good at it and it helped drive a life-long love of comedy. As for his dad, we told you how Robin joked in his Academy Awards speech about what Papa Williams thought of his son pursuing a career in showbiz. (Read: Back-up career.)
Following the success of Mork & Mindy, Robin made his way over to the big screen. His first major starring role was 1980's Popeye. For the record, he did have a small part in 1977's Can I Do It ... 'Til I Need Glasses?, but it's Popeye that was his first major part. The movie is based on E. C. Segar's character of the same name. It didn't end up being the big box office success that many hoped it would be, but it did receive a decent box office and some positive critic reviews. People could also see Robin's potential and didn't blame him for the lackluster film.
Robin's first wife was Valerie Velardi. They married in 1978 after they met in a bar where he was working. They had a son, Zachary Pym "Zak" Williams, in 1983. The two divorced in 1988. It's reported that after they separated, Robin became romantically involved with his son's then-nanny, Marsha Garces. In 1989, Robin and Marsha got married. They had two children together. Zelda was born in 1989 and Cody Alan Williams was born in 1991. Robin and Marsha stayed together until 2008, until she divorced him citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in 2010. Robin married his third wife, Susan Schneider, in 2011.
There might have been some drama with Disney trying to sell Aladdin merchandise, but it doesn't distract from Robin's brilliant performance. His role as the Genie helped make the 1992 movie a colossal hit. He also helped change the game for voice actors. Prior to Robin's part, voice acting was a separate thing from "regular acting." The comedian's delivery of the lines was also unique. Disney actually encouraged him to ad-lib and he recorded the lines in different ways so the producers could choose the best, most appropriate bits for the scene. That is likely how we ended up with a Groucho Marx genie. There's also the Hollywood myth that Aladdin was denied a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for all the ad-libbing. It has never been proven true.
There are many Robin Williams facts which showcase his comedic brilliance. This one demonstrates his kindness on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire. Lisa Jakub played Robin's daughter Lydia Hillard in the classic 1993 comedy. Apparently, her school wasn't cool with her being a movie star and they threw her out. "When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy," she revealed on her website. "My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a 'non-traditional' student. So, during filming, they kicked me out." Robin tried to help out by sending the school a letter about why she should attend and be given more academic opportunities.
It's always interesting to hear about some of the jobs actors and actresses work before "making it big." Like the vast majority, Robin held various positions. When he was attending Juilliard and would return to California for the summer, he worked as a busser at a restaurant called The Trident in Sausalito. The restaurant's website has stories about his time there along with some brilliant throwback photos. If you ask us, he would have made a brilliant waiter instead of a busboy. Just think of how entertaining he would have been and how special he would have made the meal. And we're sure he would have racked up the tips.
This is why you should not pass up tickets to see Off-Broadway shows. This fact shows you never know who you are going to see. Robin appeared with Steve Martin in Waiting for Godot at the Lincoln Center in 1988. The production is about two characters, Estragon and Vladimir, waiting for a certain Godot who never shows up. It featured Robin as Estragon, Steve as Vladimir plus Bill Irwin as Lucky and F. Murray Abraham as Pozzo. It was on for a limited run of a few weeks but was commercially successful (cha-ching), although, the critics didn't find it totally successful.
Robin's comedy was totally unique, but he was still inspired by other great people. He revealed that a number of people inspired him and made him smile and chuckle. We have previously talked about how he was inspired to make his mama laugh. He also drew inspiration from American and British comedy. Some of the other comedians and actors he was drawn to included Peter Sellers, Jay Leno, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Winters, Richard Pryor and many more. In turn, Robin inspired many wannabe actors and comedians as well as countless people to come up with their own gags and impersonations.
Can you imagine if this had happened? Robin Williams might not have had the height to play a half-giant, but he still reportedly was interested in playing Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter film series. The trouble was that Robin wasn't British and Harry Potter fans will know that there were rules about hiring British cast. Harry Potter casting director Janet Hirshenson revealed to Huff Post, "Robin had called [director Chris Columbus] because he really wanted to be in the movie, but it was a British-only edict, and once he said 'no' to Robin, he wasn't going to say 'yes' to anybody else, that's for sure. It couldn't be." Robbie Coltrane is Hagrid but we are still so intrigued by what Robin could have done.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Robin had a number of A-list friends given that he was famous himself. He had a close friendship with fellow funny man Billy Crystal. There are old photos of them on the red carpet together but their relationship was more than that. Apparently they would talk on the phone together for hours. It was Billy who paid tribute to the late actor at the 2014 Emmy Awards. He began, "He made us laugh. Hard." He continued, "I spent many happy hours with Robin onstage. The brilliance was astounding. The relentless energy was thrilling. I used to think that if I could just put a saddle on him and stay on for eight seconds, I was going to do okay."
Back in the day, the traditional sitcom setup was to use two or three cameras. It worked so it was a format that many TV programs followed. However, it wasn't the best format for capturing Robin's brilliance. Mork & Mindy creator Gary Marshall found that he was missing out on stuff because of the way Robin would run all over the set. That's why he decided to add in a fourth camera in the hopes he would capture everything. The fourth camera was to only follow Robin so they could always get a clear shot. The multi-format was later adopted by many other shows.
In 2009, Robin was working on a one-man show, Weapons of Self-Destruction, when he had to postpone in due to health complications. In March of that year he was hospitalized due to heart problems. It was revealed that he underwent surgery to replace his aortic valve at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. He said in a statement, "I'm so touched by everyone's support and well wishes ... This tour has been amazing fun and I can't wait to get back out on the road after a little tune-up." He kept his word and completed the tour from September to December of that same year.
The Walt Disney Company
If you were to get a call from Robin Williams, you might not have known it was him (unless you had caller ID). Apparently, Robin had a habit of leaving voicemails in different voices and alter egos. This seemed to be very popular with his good friend Billy Crystal. Marina Zenovich, the director of Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, revealed that Robin would come up with new characters for each voicemail message he'd leave. One example went, "Hello, Bill, it's Lord Sisley. I'm in Africa. And dear God, man, you should be here. There's creatures who would adore you. I send you all my love. But not like that day in boys school. Something different. Something wonderful. A hug. But if you wish, Bubbly, call."
You can add this one to the list of altruistic Robin Williams facts. Robin along with friends and fellow funny people Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted a Comic Relief USA HBO special in 1986. Comic Relief USA is a non-profit organization that has a goal of raising funds where they are needed with tackling homelessness being a key issue . The organization is based on the original Comic Relief charity in the United Kingdom. The USA version was founded by producer-actor-writer Bob Zmuda. It continues to this day with Red Nose Day seeking to end child poverty. It has raised $100 million in three years.
The funnyman might not have graduated from Juilliard, but he still wanted to show his support for other acting hopefuls attending the school. The Juilliard School had the Robin Williams Scholarship which provided funding to students to assist in all of their expenses. One of the students who benefited from the scholarship was none other than Jessica Chastain. After his passing, Jessica wrote on her Facebook page, "Robin Williams changed my life. He was a great actor and a generous person. Through a scholarship, he made it possible for me to graduate college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed." She had previously talked about the full scholarship in interviews. She explained how it was awarded every two years to a student.
Robin Williams was the Genie. Even decades after the animated feature came out, the late actor is linked to the laughable character from Disney's Aladdin. The part was more than a perfect match. It was actually written for Robin. Eric Goldberg, the animator behind the iconic 1992 film, revealed to EW that it was "very clear" co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker wanted Robin for the part. To convince him, the directors instructed Eric to animate a genie performing some of Robin's comedy bits. They showed them to Robin during talks and it looks like it worked.
There were a lot of epic Friends cameos. The show had everyone from Brad Pitt to Julia Roberts to, yes, Robin Williams. The funny guy appeared on the show with buddy Billy Crystal. What's interesting is that their cameo wasn't in the original script of "The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion" episode from season three. Apparently Robin and Billy happened to be in the same area the NBC show was filming so Friends producers asked Robin and Billy if they wanted to make an appearance. Billy ended up as Tim and Robin as Tomas. In true form, much of their part was ad-libbed and so was the Friends' cast reaction to them.
The Dead Poets Society could have been a very different movie if it stuck with the original plan. It has been reported that Dustin Hoffman was slated to direct and star in the 1989 drama. Obviously, neither of those things happened. Peter Weir ended up directing the film and Robin starred as John Keating. As for what happened with Dustin, it's said that there were issues with conflicting schedules that couldn't be resolved. And here's another interesting tidbit: Matt Damon lost out on a role in the film. He would later get to work with Robin in Good Will Hunting.
People never really knew what Robin Williams was going to do so they had better be prepared unless they wanted to miss comedic gold. This is why they had a couple of cameras focused on the actor all the time when he was working on Mrs. Doubtfire. Director Chris Columbus did not want to miss anything great. Similarly, there were also cameras set on the rest of the cast when Robin improvised. Additionally, they shot different versions of each scene besides what was written. This included some raunchier stuff and gave the director the option of how he wanted to cut the movie to meet a certain rating, i.e. PG-13.
There are many, many sad things surrounding the death of Robin Williams at the age of 63 years old in 2014. It was reported that the actor died by suicide. It was also revealed that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, according to his wife Susan Schneider. Two years after Robin's passing, Susan publicly stated in a Neurology journal that Robin's autopsy had revealed that he had signs of Lewy body disease, which is where abnormal aggregates of protein develop inside nerve cells and impact the brain. It's linked to both Parkinson's and dementia. Susan revealed she saw symptoms of the disease and Robin was aware, too.
And the philanthropic Robin Williams facts continue. Robin and his second wife Marsha Garces set up the Windfall Foundation to raise money for different charities. Some of the non-profit organizations it helped raise money for included the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, The Pediatric AIDS Association, UNICEF, Amnesty International and many more. Robin was also a supporter of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Furthermore, he would show his support for American servicemen and servicewomen by performing for the troops. He helped out abroad, too. He donated money from his Weapons of Self Destruction show to help support victims of the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. It shows his heart was as big as his desire to make people laugh.
The box office figures and awards show accolades show that Robin was a massive success in movies. Mork & Mindy proved that he could definitely attract an audience in television. (The sitcom peaked at an audience of 60 million.) Ticket sales to his one-man shows proved that people were drawn to him on the stage, too. In 2002, the funny guy was set to perform in Robin Williams: Live on Broadway. Tickets were sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale. You can see why he went on to win Grammy awards for his comedy routines and albums, can you?