Robin Williams was a comedic juggernaut, a force of nature with a sharper comedic mind than IMB’s Watson after a Netflix binge. To honor his memory and fondness for making people laugh, here are 10 lesser known facts from his life to perhaps help you appreciate how unique and talented he truly was. Starting with…
10. He Had to be Censored in Four Languages
Robin Williams had a remarkable affinity for languages and accents and was known to be able curse in at least half a dozen languages. Along with allowing the comedian to deliver rapid-fire monologues that incorporated endless impressions and characters of his own invention, it also meant that he was remarkably difficult to censor.
You see, on the set of Mork and Mindy (Williams’ big break and foray into the world of television), he was tasked with playing an alien who had little to no understanding of how humans acted or behaved. Truly a role he was born to play. To this end, Williams came up with multiple “nonsense” phrases for his character to say, which were supposed to be interpreted as the random utterings of an alien unfamiliar with Earth languages. Just to see if he could, Williams made it a game of sorts to curse, swear, and tell dick jokes in Spanish, Russian, and other languages he was familiar with in a high-pitched voice while insisting he was simply making random noises… and he totally got away with it.
Eventually, though, ABC caught wind of Williams’ antics and hired a censor fluent in Spanish, Russian, and French (three languages he was known to use the most) to pore over his improvised lines before letting them air. In response, Williams tried to swear and tell dirty jokes in Yiddish, only to be informed that the new censor was Jewish, to which he apparently responded, “Oh, how sad” before glumly going back to telling non-dirty jokes in English.
Hey, speaking of Mork and Mindy…
9. He Spun Mork Off From a Bit Part to His Own Show… in Four Days
While Mork and Mindy is well regarded as a classic TV comedy that bolstered the career of one of Hollywood’s most endearing and loved celebrities, the genesis of the character was largely considered one of the most cynical, stupid moves ever made by a TV executive.
For anyone unfamiliar with the character’s origins, Mork (Williams’ beloved man-child alien character) first appeared in an episode of Happy Days, titled “My Favorite Orkan.” The episode was supposedly inspired by an executive’s son, who asked his father to make an episode of Happy Days with an alien in it, a request he complied with by having his writers create a script so bad the actor initially hired to play Mork quit after reading it.
According to every actor involved with Happy Days, nobody had any faith in the script or the episode whatsoever until a desperate producer asked the fateful question, “Does anyone know an alien?” which prompted someone present to recommend Williams for the part. Williams killed his audition, reportedly by responding to the prompt “Sit on the chair” by doing a headstand on it (because an alien wouldn’t know what sitting was), and caused the audience to laugh so hard during his first day of shooting that the head of the network came to see what was going on. Four days later the bit part that literally nobody had any faith in had been written into his own show with Williams at the helm. He was just that good.
8. He Helped Superman Recover From the Worst Injury of His Life
This is perhaps the most well known story on the list, but one that if we don’t include will be posted in the comments anyway. So, we may as well save you the time of scrolling down.
Prior to his untimely death in 2004, Williams was close friends with the actor Christopher Reeve, whom he met while studying at Juilliard. As you probably know, Reeve, best known for playing Superman, was paralyzed from the neck down in a horseriding accident in 1995. As you can imagine, Reeve was distraught and deeply depressed by the accident, something Robin Williams was having approximately none of.
The story goes that rather than walking into his room feeling all sorry for himself, Williams instead donned a pair of stolen scrubs and ran into his room, screaming in a thick Russian accent that he was there to give Reeve a rectal exam. This prompted Reeves to laugh for the first time since the accident, and he noted that it was one of the turning points in his recovery.
7. He Didn’t Want to be in Aladdin
Despite it being possibly his most famous role, Robin Williams was initially hesitant to portray the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Williams’ hesitation supposedly arose as a result of his staunch refusal to have his likeness used to hawk crappy toys and merchandise to kids in Happy Meals and what not.
Disney, who’d written the role of the Genie specifically for Williams, were unperturbed and badgered the actor relentlessly until he finally agreed to the role… with several strict caveats. In short, Williams agreed to be in the movie on the grounds his likeness wasn’t used to sell anything or be used prominently in advertising, and in return he agreed with work for scale (effectively the lowest amount of pay possible). In his own words:
“The one thing I said was I will do the voice. I’m doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don’t want to sell anything–as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.”
Disney begrudgingly agreed to and then heroically went back on this deal almost immediately, using Williams’ involvement to sell both the film and related merchandise, causing an incensed Williams to badmouth Disney to the press. Terrified of the bad press involved with having the voice of the character they were using to sell the film saying they sucked, Disney quietly sent Williams a late Picasso painting as an apology for being turds.
6. There’s a Clause in his Will Preventing People From Using His Likeness
As you can probably tell from the previous entry, Robin Williams felt very strongly about using his likeness to hawk products to children, and during his lifetime was very careful to only lend his name, image and nuclear amounts of swag to advertise things he truly believed in, like The Legend of Zelda.
Perhaps foreseeing that Disney or other companies may attempt to cash in on his death, Williams included an unusual clause in his will: bequeathing the rights to his image, voice and likeness to a charitable trust to ensure his legacy remained untarnished for at least 25 years after his death.
Speaking of which…
5. He Once Tried to Buy a Huge Rubber Penis Dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire
Mrs. Doubtfire is a comedy film in which a father, pushed to desperation by the loss of his children in a custody battle, commits fraud and dresses as an elderly woman for a chance to see them. The film is one of Williams’ best known roles and received praise for it’s writing, humor, and make-up, which was apparently realistic enough for Williams to indulge his habit of playing pranks.
According to Williams, to check to see if his old lady make-up was convincing enough, he entered a number of sex shops in LA and grilled the clerks on the perks and features of their most expensive and largest dildos. Williams came away satisfied when his disguise was only seen through after he began to really push his luck by getting right in the clerk’s face, at which point they recognized him and realized they were being punked.
4. He Replaced His Cocaine Addiction with Bicycles
Throughout his life, Robin Williams had numerous problems with drug and substance addiction, both of which he was starkly honest about in interviews, books, and stand-up shows, using his former vices to help and entertain others.
According to the actor, one of the key things that helped him get off drugs for good was the sport of cycling, which he threw himself into, eventually becoming a cycle-bro of epic proportions. Williams owned hundreds of bikes, cycled thousands of miles, and traveled the globe to watch cycling events, crediting the sport with helping him kick his addiction to cocaine for good and admitting to a close friend that the sport, in all likelihood, saved his life. There’s no joke or smartass comment in this entry because strangling a cocaine addiction to death by getting really good at cycling is just straight badass
3. He was an Internet Hipster; Complained About Not Having Broadband
Williams was well known for his nerdy habits, naming his daughter Zelda after the popular Nintendo franchise, playing World of Warcraft in his downtime, and occasionally trawling through internet chat rooms when he was bored. You’ll notice that one of those things is decidedly more dated than the others, and that’s because Williams was an internet early adopter, being one of the first celebrities to acknowledge the potential of the internet… by which we mean he’d troll eBay for weird stuff for sale and talk to strangers about modding video games.
Williams’ obsession with the internet was such that in the early 2000s he’d base his choice of hotel entirely on whether or not it had broadband (in his own words: “Once you’ve had DSL, you don’t go back”), and would get super annoyed if he couldn’t play his favorite browser games in his off-time. In other words, he was just like any other computer literate nerd from the early 2000s and had all the same problems. Including having his ass kicked in first person shooters by 12-year-olds several years later when the internet became a whole big, different thing, prompting him to…
2. Trash-Talked Kids in Call of Duty
Williams’ was a big fan of video games in his lifetime and admitted in various interviews to being obsessed with military-style first person shooters, with Half-Life and Call of Duty being two of his favorite franchises. The problem was that as a 50-year-old man with the reflexes of a former cocaine addict, Williams wasn’t all that great at these games and frequently found himself being beaten by teenagers when playing online.
While Williams would often admit that he seldom revealed his identity while playing video games online, relishing the anonymity of games like World of Warcraft which allowed him to just chill and do his own thing, he would occasionally break this self-imposed rule whenever he got particularly salty while playing shooting games.
Exactly what Williams told these kids isn’t clear, as he only mentioned doing it in passing in interviews, but it’s nice to know that somewhere out there is a kid who has no idea that during a late night Counter Strike session he no-scoped Robin Williams.
1. He Really Elbow Dropped That Crocodile in Jumanji
There’s a scene in the film Jumanji where Robin Williams’ character, showing little regard for his own life, leaps through the air to deliver a crushing, Randy Savage-elbow drop to a crocodile. The scene was accomplished primarily through the use of animatronics, though an actor in a crocodile suit was used for some shots.
Robin Williams, being Robin Williams, of course threw himself into the scene, figuratively and literally. He spent take after take slapping the robotic reptile with increasingly aggressive knife-hand chops and skull-crushing elbow strikes, in between tenderly humping it for the amusement of the crew when cameras weren’t rolling (that’s not a joke, he really did that).
According to Williams, though, he may have gotten a little too carried away during filming, because during one take requiring him to beat the beast into submission, he recalled hearing a soft “Hey!” from inside its leathery hide. As it turns out, Williams had been trying to punch the fake-crocodile so hard the guy inside the suit could feel it.
And that’s the memory of Robin Williams we want to leave you with: an excited man-child gleefully punching a giant, fake crocodile with such enthusiasm a guy wearing a giant crocodile suit asked him to calm down and take his job more seriously.