Robin Williams: a career in pictures

Eleni Stefanou introduces some visual highlights from the films of the much-loved actor and comedian Robin Williams, who has died aged 63.

Eleni Stefanou

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Like the genie that stole the show in Disney’s Aladdin (1992), Robin Williams carried within him a precious and rare power. He could transform our ordinary surroundings – a multiplex, a living room – into a place where humanity and humour danced together unrestrained. He channelled generous expanses of energy, which resulted in performances that those of us who grew up watching him can still freshly recall today. He could charge words with great heart, as he did in Dead Poets Society (1989) and Good Will Hunting (1998), while also possessing the unassailable talent to magic them up in his standup comedy, and his now legendary improvisation in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).

His films were often derided by critics for being sentimental, but Williams’ gift was to make the sentimental moments utterly truthful and sincere. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) tackled divorce through approachable storytelling; Hook (1991) celebrated children’s capacity for infinite imagination; and Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack (1996) introduced the subject of mortality to young audiences. Williams once said that “comedy is acting out optimism”. This is his legacy.

Opposite Shelley Duvall as spinach-munching comic-strip hero Popeye in Robert Altman’s big-screen musical adaptation, Popeye (1980)

Opposite Shelley Duvall as spinach-munching comic-strip hero Popeye in Robert Altman’s big-screen musical adaptation, Popeye (1980)

As inspirational prep school teacher John Keating in Peter Weir’s Oscar-winning drama Dead Poets Society (1989)

As inspirational prep school teacher John Keating in Peter Weir’s Oscar-winning drama Dead Poets Society (1989)

Williams was teamed with Robert De Niro in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990), based on a memoir by British neurologist Oliver Sacks

Williams was teamed with Robert De Niro in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990), based on a memoir by British neurologist Oliver Sacks

Terry Gilliam cast Robin Williams as a homeless man searching for the Holy Grail in 1991’s The Fisher King, co-starring Jeff Bridges

Terry Gilliam cast Robin Williams as a homeless man searching for the Holy Grail in 1991’s The Fisher King, co-starring Jeff Bridges

Williams played a grownup Peter Pan opposite Dustin Hoffman’s dastardly Captain Hook in Steven Spielberg’s sequel, Hook (1991)

Williams played a grownup Peter Pan opposite Dustin Hoffman’s dastardly Captain Hook in Steven Spielberg’s sequel, Hook (1991)

Williams’s scattershot comic patter was put to unforgettable effect as the voice of the genie of the lamp in Disney’s energetic 1992 animation, Aladdin

Williams’s scattershot comic patter was put to unforgettable effect as the voice of the genie of the lamp in Disney’s energetic 1992 animation, Aladdin

Williams memorably donned drag to play a divorced man masquerading as a Scottish nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Williams memorably donned drag to play a divorced man masquerading as a Scottish nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Father’s Day (1997) co-stars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal made uncredited cameos in this 1997 episode of hit sitcom Friends, known as ‘The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion’ 

Father’s Day (1997) co-stars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal made uncredited cameos in this 1997 episode of hit sitcom Friends, known as ‘The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion’ 

Woody Allen directs Williams in Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Woody Allen directs Williams in Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Williams won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for Good Will Hunting (1997), directed by Gus van Sant and starring Matt Damon as a 20-year-old prodigy

Williams won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for Good Will Hunting (1997), directed by Gus van Sant and starring Matt Damon as a 20-year-old prodigy

Vincent Ward’s afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998)

Vincent Ward’s afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998)

Another heavyweight co-billing: this time, Williams went head-to-head with Al Pacino in the icy wildernesses of Alaska for Christopher Nolan’s crime drama Insomnia (2002)

Another heavyweight co-billing: this time, Williams went head-to-head with Al Pacino in the icy wildernesses of Alaska for Christopher Nolan’s crime drama Insomnia (2002)

Williams was at his most chilling as an unhinged photolab worker in Mark Romanek’s psychological thriller One Hour Photo (2002)

Williams was at his most chilling as an unhinged photolab worker in Mark Romanek’s psychological thriller One Hour Photo (2002)

With Ben Stiller in the blockbuster fantasy A Night at the Museum (2006)

With Ben Stiller in the blockbuster fantasy A Night at the Museum (2006)

In the sound studio recording voices for the animated comedy Happy Feet (2006)

In the sound studio recording voices for the animated comedy Happy Feet (2006)

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