There’s no real way to make sense of a death as unexpected and tragic as Robin Williams’. Those hurting from the loss have been seeking solace in Williams’ vast, diverse body of work. As the news broke, film lovers inundated Twitter with YouTube clips of their favorite scenes from the man’s career, illustrating the variety that he brought to his acting. Below, we’ve collected a small sample from a powerhouse performer’s career.
Aladdin may not have been the artistic high point of the early-’90s Disney Renaissance, but it did endear Williams to an entire generation. Ron Clements and John Musker wrote the role of the Genie specifically for Williams, taking full advantage of the actor’s comedic persona as a live-action-cartoon by transforming him into an actual cartoon. The scene in which the Genie receives his freedom is the beating heart of the film, but nothing beats “Friend Like Me,” a musical number that’d make Busby Berkeley swoon. Williams is at the height of his song-and-dance-man powers here, magicking side-splitting punchlines out of the air with every passing second.
Despite the burden of decades of parody, Dead Poets Society has lost none of its power to move audiences. Williams invested all of his lines as impassioned English teacher John Keating with a sense of gravity that audiences may not have expected from the man known as Mork. The circumstances surrounding Williams’ death are going to cast a grim pallor over all of his roles from now on, but hearing Keating talk about the fleeting preciousness of life and the importance of making something of yourself is especially wrenching. No one would deny that Williams led exactly the sort of extraordinary life on which Keating waxes rhapsodical here.
Good Will Hunting introduced audiences to a pair of dashing hooligans from Boston named Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who would go on to rocket to the top of the A-list, and brought Williams his first and only Oscar. His portrayal of patient, sagacious therapist Dr. Sean Maguire transcends the sort of cheap politicking shown in many award-winning performances. Williams makes a three-course feast of the monologue above, putting his stamp on the sort of lines most actors can only dream of. As Damon sits in surly disengagement, Williams gracefully transitions from sorrow to anger to sympathy, finally arriving at hope. Williams joked on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that the Oscar really only lasted a week, and then fans on the street were back to calling out “nanu nanu.” He’s wrong. At least in part, this performance will define his legacy.
Patch Adams has the sort of sickeningly maudlin premise—a doctor heals cancer-stricken children through the restorative power of laughter!—that would mark a lot of Williams’ lesser work. But it makes a sort of eminent sense that a man who struggled for so long with depression and self-destruction would gravitate toward relentlessly uplifting fare such as this. In the below clip, Dr. Adams first takes his schtick into the ward to a rapturous reception from the ailing moppets. It’s easy to be cynical, and much of Williams’ work did fall along more hardened lines, but this scene cuts right through any defenses viewers have put up around the most tender crannies of their hearts.
The Danny DeVito-directed Death To Smoochy crashed and burned at the box office when it was released in 2002, but has since amassed a fiercely devoted cult of fans who adore the film’s uncompromisingly dark look at children’s entertainment. Here, Williams turns the energy up to 10, playing apoplectic kiddie host Rainbow Randolph. He attempts to sabotage Sheldon Mopes’ (Edward Norton) Barney knockoff by, only to burst into rage-choked disbelief when the scheme backfires. The barrage of creative euphemisms Randolph unleashes is a thing of unparalleled beauty. Feel free to integrate “chorizo and huevos” into your everyday vernacular.
One of Williams’ more unusual projects, Bicentennial Man adapted the Isaac Asimov novella of the same name into a mishmash that’s equal parts sci-fi thought experiment, family comedy, and existential drama. Williams disappears into the role of Andrew Martin, an android designed to assist a family around the house who gradually makes the titanic leap into becoming a real boy. In this clip, his creator, played by Oliver Platt, informs him that he’s close to making the last breakthrough separating Andrew from the rest of humanity. It’s an odd moment in context, but the palpable wonder in each of Williams’ words transcends the pieces of the movie that don’t quite work. His is a defamiliarized perspective. He looks as an outsider on that which humans take for granted. In his automaton’s eyes, sex takes on a miraculous and beautiful luster.
For his first leading role on film, Williams didn’t shy away from what would’ve been a daunting challenge for an actor of lesser skill. But he was uniquely well-suited for the bloated forearms of Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye’s unmistakable agh-agh-agh-agh chuckle sounds like something Williams had been keeping in his back pocket since his days cutting his teeth as a manic stand-up. A calculated risk like Popeye exemplifies exactly what made Williams such an unpredictable and thrilling actor.