It’s hard to believe that Robin Williams, one of the funniest and most universally loved comedic actors in a generation, has been gone more than 5 years.
If you’re missing him (and who isn’t), here are 10 endearing facts about the man that might still bring a smile to your face.
#10. He forgot to thank his mother during his Oscar acceptance speech.
Williams won a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Good Will Hunting, and when he was asked about the experience on The Graham Norton Show, the actor mentioned that he accidentally left one of the most important people in his life out of his list of thank-yous.
“I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience. Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to her pants]. How’s the award?'”
#9. He got his start at a comedy workshop inside a church.
He trained at Juilliard, and afterward, Williams joined a comedy workshop in a San Franciscan church. He told NPR about the decision, and the experience.
“So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo. And then I started to realize, ‘Oh. I started building an act from there.”
#8. He helped Steven Spielberg get through the filming of Schindler’s List.
Director Steven Spielberg has shared that, while filming the difficult Schindler’s List, his friend Robin Williams used to call and do 15 minutes of stand-up to make him laugh.
“Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on a schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone. I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”
#7. He was friends with Koko the Gorilla.
Williams visited Koko in 2001 after her caregivers noticed that she seemed to recognize him when se saw him on screen. Koko signed asking for Williams to tickle her, and the two shared something special.
“We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” said Williams of the encounter, and when Koko was told of his passing, she fell into sadness.
#6. He helped Ethan Hawke get an agent.
The two had a different relationship on the set of Dead Poet’s Society, one that left Hawke assuming that Williams hated him, as he recalled on The Graham Norton Show.
“I really wanted to be a serious actor. I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane Williams got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh, this one doesn’t want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a job.”
Hawke had to rethink everything when he got a call from Williams agent, who wanted to sign Hawke after Williams suggested it.
#5. He worked as a mime in Central Park.
There’s a Daniel Sorine picture from 1974 that shows two mimes in Central Park – one of whom was Robin Williams, a Juilliard student at the time.
#4. He and Billy Crystal used to talk on the phone for hours.
Williams, Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless, and soon after Williams died, Crystal spoke about their friendship on The View.
“We were like two jazz musicians. Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”
Gary was, of course, Williams.
#3. He wasn’t the first choice to play Mork.
The producers of Happy Days told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play the part. The script was terrible – and so was the actor, who quit before the filming commenced.
That was when producer Garry Marshall suggested Williams, and he, of course, went on to co-headline Mork & Mindy for four seasons.
#2. He was almost cast in Midnight Run.
In 1988, Williams talked with Rolling Stone about how some things about being an actor never changed.
“I read for a movie with DeNiro [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, “I can be as funny,” but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it.”
Williams and De Niro worked together on Awakenings just 2 years later.
#1. He made voice acting cool.
The success of his work on Aladdin led to more celebrities voicing animated characters, according to a 2011 article in The Atlantic.
“Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors – people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.”
You can get more of your Robin Williams fix this July, when HBO premieres their documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind.