Robin Williams saw the world differently – Orange County Register

If one moment can symbolize an entire life, Robin Williams’ came in 1977, in the office of television producer Garry Marshall.

Marshall was casting for someone to play an alien on an episode of his top-rated comedy “Happy Days.” He called the little-known actor in and pointed to a chair.

Williams nonchalantly climbed into the seat upside down.

He got the role, and on Feb. 28, 1978, he stole America’s hearts as Mork from Ork. By fall, Mork had his own series, and Williams rocketed into a career not only as one of America’s greatest comic talents but one of its favorite box-office stars as well. He went on to win an Oscar, two Emmys and five Grammys.

Sitting on his head in Marshall’s chair was the sort of stroke of brilliance that seemed to erupt from Williams almost constantly. He saw the world from a different angle than the rest of us, and it looked darned funny from there. Comedy would pour nonstop out of him, as if it were trapped in his body and he couldn’t get it out fast enough.

That same sort of uncontrollability seemed to dog his personal life as well. Monday, after long bouts battling depression and substance abuse, Williams apparently committed suicide at his home in Marin County. He was 63.

A preliminary investigation showed the cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, the Marin sheriff’s office said. Williams had been battling severe depression recently, said Mara Buxbaum, his representative.

Williams’ career began inauspiciously. He was 25 when he left Julliard, aiming for a career in acting and standup comedy. He had scored only a few minor parts when he was cast for two episodes of NBC’s 1977 disaster, “The Richard Pryor Show.” Marshall saw him and was intrigued.

The fan reaction to Williams’ appearance as Mork was phenomenal, and soon Williams and Marshall were working together on “Mork & Mindy.”

As with most sitcoms of its day, “Mork & Mindy” was filmed with three cameras. But Williams was so frantic, and missed his mark so often, that Marshall brought in a fourth camera just to follow him – now a standard of TV production.

Even with an extra camera, the small screen was too confining for Williams, and he was off to grander pursuits: as a standup comedian selling out concert halls and as a movie star. His first few starring films were minor successes, at best, but in 1987 that changed with “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

The role of freewheeling Armed Forces Radio personality Adrian Cronauer allowed Williams to be Williams; the film became a sleeper hit. Williams showed he had dramatic chops as well, and he quickly became box-office heaven for producers.

His major films included “Dead Poets Society,” “The Fisher King,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Birdcage,” “Flubber” and “Good Will Hunting,” which earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor.

Later in his career, critics often found his films too sentimental, a criticism he confronted by taking on darker roles, such as the creepy Seymour Parrish of “One Hour Photo.” He never lost touch with his standup career; in 2002 he turned that into a theatrical smash with “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.”

Last fall, he returned to TV in “The Crazy Ones,” where he once again unleashed the manic comic energy that had made him a star.

“To watch Robin work, was a magical and special privilege,” said filmmaker Chris Columbus, who directed him in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” “His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen; they came from some spiritual and otherworldly place. He truly was one of the few people who deserved the title of genius.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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