We remember this OG by learning, and then celebrating, 15 cool and crazy things about his storied life. Don’t get caught at the dad function — which could be a barbecue, a sporting event, or a surprise trivia night in which the trivia is mysteriously all about Robin Williams — without these cool facts about the legend himself.
1. He had a close relationship with Christopher Reeve.
Turns out the acting superstars were roommates at Juilliard back in the day, and Christopher even helped Robin out from time to time. “My student loan hadn’t come in yet, and he would share his food with me,” said Robin.
Later when Christopher suffered a spinal cord injury, Robin visited him in the hospital in the most Robin Williams way possible. From Christopher’s book, Still Me:
“…the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist, and that he had to examine me immediately…it was Robin Williams…for the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”
2. In high school he was voted “Least Likely to Succeed.”
Does this mean I still have a chance to defy my fate of “Most Likely to Have an Early-onset Mid-life Crisis”?
Back at ole Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, some people who are very bad at predicting outcomes and who should probably stay away from gambling guessed that Robin Williams wouldn’t amount to much.
Since then he’s won five Grammys, two Emmys, and an Academy Award. Better luck next time, high school kids with poor judgment. For the rest of us who also got insulting superlatives in our yearbooks, good news: we can still turn this thing around.
3. His favorite book as a kid was Chronicles of Narnia’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Robin passed on the magic of Narnia to his own kids by reading the C.S. Lewis series aloud to them. During an AMA, he said: “I would read the whole C.S. Lewis series out loud to my kids. I was once reading to Zelda, and she said ‘don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.’ So I did, I just read it straight, and she said ‘that’s better.’”
I’m imagining the superhuman/dad strength it took for Robin Williams not to do a funny voice and sending mad dad-preciation up towards the sky.
4. If Robin could be any animal, he’d have been a dolphin.
From his AMA on Reddit: “Just their abilities, how social they are, how sexual they are, how intelligent they are, mainly how social they are.”
Good god, look away kids. It’s true, Robin liked sex and admired that dolphins also like sex. It makes sense that someone as down-to-earth and personable as Robin would switch bodies with a sociable animal. I can’t blame the guy; dolphins seem like they’re having a good time. And also sex.
5. He was a gamer.
Does the guy who named his daughter “Zelda” like gaming? The rumors are true, the guy who named his daughter after a video game character loves gaming. Robin had Battlestation Pacific, Portal, and Call of Duty on rotation. And apparently, Robin and his wife played Legend of Zelda together when she was pregnant with aforementioned daughter, which is the cutest thing ever.
World of Warcraft paid homage to the legend by memorializing Robin in multiple ways, most notably a lamp-dwelling genie with “infinite cosmic power,” reminiscent of that big blue fella we all know and love from 1992 Disney classic Aladdin.
6. He loved cycling.
Another cool thing that came out during his AMA: “My favorite thing to do is ride a bicycle. I ride road bikes. And for me, it’s mobile meditation.” Robin, I’ve been saying for YEARS that repetitive exercise is moving meditation. We are like, so the same. Except you’re one hundred times more talented than me.
New dad fantasy alert: me and Robin Williams, biking up the California coastline, trying on funny voices and sharing our troubles in those voices, getting lost in nature and then finding ourselves.
7. He got angry with Disney for using his genie voice to sell Aladdin merch without his permission.
When Disney tried to slip one over on Robin (who do they think they are?) by earning some extra dough with his classic genie voice, Robin wasn’t having it: “I don’t want to sell stuff. It’s the one thing I won’t do.” That guy was committed to the art as hell.
To make up for it, Disney sent him a Picasso painting believed to be worth $1 million. Thanks, I guess? How about next time, ask first.
8. He started his acting journey as a mime in New York City.
That’s right, Robin could do it all, including making you laugh without funny voices.
Photographer Daniel Sorine was doing his usual thang of taking photos of in Central Park when he came across a duo in front of the Met. It wasn’t until 35 years later that he realized one of those mimes was none other than Robin Williams.
“What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality and physical fluidity,” said Sorine. “When I approached them with my Pentax Spotmatic they allowed me to invite them into my camera instead of me having to chase after them.”
Check out the full gallery here.
9. He once owned a vineyard.
Is this evoking a fantasy vineyard getaway for you, too? On three let’s say what we’re thinking.
Did you also say, “You, me, and our cadre of dads escape to Napa Valley to sip wine and have Robin Williams movie marathons while cosplaying as our favorite Robin characters”?
Oh, you say you had that fantasy about you and your spouse and not me? Okay. Fine.
Robin on owning a vineyard: “It’s like Gandhi owning a delicatessen.”
10. His dad was a Ford executive.
You came to The Dad for facts about Robin Williams, but did you know you’d be getting facts about Robin Williams’s dad? Dadception indeed.
Robin’s dad, Robert Fitzgerald Williams, worked at Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division as a senior executive, and his mom, Laurie McLaurin, was a former model. One could say they were a family of high-performing rockstars.
Apparently, when Dadbert (what we lovingly call Robin’s dad) was transferred to Detroit, the family lived in a 40-room farmhouse with a maid. Later they moved to fancytown USA, aka Marin County, California.
11. He did a mean Jack Nicholson impression.
Robin said his favorite celebrity to impersonate was Jack Nicholson, but he also loved doing impressions of Ed Sullivan, Keith Richards, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and John Wayne. Dana Carvey did his favorite impersonation of himself.
12. He befriended a gorilla named Koko.
Classic boy meets girl, except boy, in this case, is fully adult Robin Williams, and girl is one San Francisco Zoo inhabitant called Hanabiko “Koko” the Gorilla.
Koko was famous for knowing many American Sign Language signs and was said to have recognized Robin in person after watching his movies. According to the Koko Foundation, Robin even cheered her up after her mate died.
13. The role of Genie in Aladdin was written for Robin.
And in order to woo him for it, Disney shared their vision of Genie by fully animating him and having him perform one of Robin’s own stand-up sets. Robin was like, hell yeah, I’m down to clown around in Genie town. Or words to that effect.
14. He lived a full but troubled life.
Time magazine once asked Robin: “Billy Crystal says stand-up is how you process the painful. Do we have to wish more painful things on you?” Robin’s answer: “You don’t have to. I find them.”
Robin suffered from addiction and depression and, when he did talk about it, talked about it in that oh-so-very-Robinesque way. He told Time, “I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open.”
It may be that fame and fortune aren’t all their cracked up to be. It may be that the goofy, fun friend is just hiding the dark stuff really well. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting two things from this: check on your funny friends, even if their jokes are going downhill. Especially if their jokes are going downhill.
And maybe that whole “I’ll be happy once I’m rich!” thing a lot of us have going on in our heads isn’t necessarily true. Maybe we can get that same rich feeling from looking over at our kids and seeing them healthy and happy or reading them Chronicles of Narnia, to be corny about it. Just saying. Maybe that’s the more worthwhile thing.
15. He ad-libbed one of our favorite parts in Good Will Hunting.
That part in which Sean is describing his wife’s farts? Robin made that up Robin made that up out of his beautiful head. Look close enough and you’ll see Matt Damon the human, not Will the character, having some real laughs. Look even closer and you might notice the camera (and accompanying camera man) shake.
That’s just the effect Robin had on people — uncontrollable laughter. High five to the skies up towards Robin for doing one of the funniest dad bits of all time, which is mom-themed fart jokes. Why could all stand to be a little more like Robin, and that includes making fun of mom’s farts. Especially making fun of mom’s farts. And if she gives you any grief, tell her you’re just paying respects to the realest.
These crazy facts are a part of our dad trivia series, where we drop some pop-culture science you can impress your dad pals with at the next BBQ.
Check out our previous edition where we featured crazy Facts You Don’t Know About Rick Moranis.