What a loss.
Yes, he was T.S. (“Terribly Sexy”) Garp, Adrian Cronauer, Armand Goldman and a host of other men—and occasionally women—but most of all he was the fastest brain (and mouth) around.
To listen to him improvise was astonishing. I remember the Sunday afternoon he and Billy Crystal invaded the Mets broadcasting booth at Shea Stadium to promote the first Comic Relief. This was definitely foreign territory for Billy, a diehard Yankees fan. But Robin Williams, who professed to never having attended a baseball game before, was nevertheless right at home. Taking on the persona of a fey fashion designer, he proceeded to give new meaning to the term “color commentary” with his nonstop views on the players’ uniforms (“Can’t they be more stylish?”), batting helmets and everything else in view. Tim McCarver, the Mets’ play-by-play man, was laughing so hard he was beside himself. And I had fallen off the sofa the instant Robin opened his mouth.
Fortunately he left behind the many characters he brought to life on film. To this day, nothing brings me out of a funk faster that Adrian Cronauer’s first broadcast in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Unless, of course, it’s Robin’s whirlwind make-up tests in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” aided and abetted by Harvey Fierstein. But my all-time favorite is the bit he improvised for “The Birdcage,” when he provides motivation for Nathan Lane’s hunky yet exceedingly clueless dance partner. His lightning quick demonstration of about six different choreographic styles sent me into hysterics as soon as he pulled his shirt over his head at “Martha Graham, Martha Graham.” And when he galloped around at “Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd,” I totally lost it. Pure genius.
Perhaps my favorite among Robin Williams’ “serious” roles is Garp. The mania is tamed, but the vibrancy remains. Needless to say, the cast is amazing: Glenn Close as his mother, Mary Beth Hurt as his wife, John Lithgow as the inimitable Roberta Muldoon and Swoosie Kurtz as a prostitute-turned-women’s rights supporter. He takes us through Garp’s triumphs, only to trip and fall and then succeed again. There are times you just want to smack him one, but Robin Williams is so likeable in the role you just root for the character no matter what.
He will indeed be missed.