A New York Times culture reporter uses both straight reporting and insightful analysis in the first major biography of Robin Williams (1951-2014).
After discovering his talents as a comedian and actor in his late teens, Williams was clearly going places—but where? As Billy Crystal described one of Williams’ early performances in the book, “it was like trying to catch a comet with a baseball glove.” With his madcap stage antics, trademark rainbow suspenders, and rapid-fire shifting from character to character, he mesmerized audiences everywhere, first in the small comedy clubs of New York, then on TV, and eventually in Hollywood films. “But who was he?” So asks Itzkoff (Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies, 2014, etc.) in the prologue of this comprehensive examination of Williams’ long career as an actor, family man, and friend. The author portrays an artist who, though not necessarily tormented, was driven by his insecurities and addictive personality to seek constant and immediate validation through his performances. From a stint at Juilliard, through his early success with Mork & Mindy, and finally his big breaks with Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, and Aladdin, Itzkoff chronicles his career arc and friendships with the likes of Christopher Reeve, Billy Crystal, and Richard Pryor, among countless others. Through their perspectives, along with those of his parents, children, and wives, the author draws out the many different Robins the world has come to know—but as the Itzkoff shows, there was so much more. His suicide came as a major blow to nearly everyone around him, and many are still puzzled by this final act from an artist who seemed to have it all. Itzkoff explores all the theories, including the surprising and probable one involving Lewy body disease, which caused crippling dementia and robbed Williams of his ability to perform.
In this solidly reported and much-anticipated book, Itzkoff delivers a revealing portrait of the motivations of a quiet comic genius whose explosive persona moved millions.