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Local artists and performers remember Robin Williams' legacy

POSTED: August 13, 2014 1:39 a.m.
Charles Sykes/Associated Press

Robin Williams appears onstage in April at The 2012 Comedy Awards in New York.

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After legendary comedian Robin Williams’ death Monday, local artists and performers, including some who had the privilege of knowing the late actor personally, joined in the outpouring of grief from all corners of the world.

“When I was little, I had the VHS tapes of all his movies,” said Andrew George, a Gainesville-born stand-up comedian. “I would watch them until they got fuzzy. In the summer, I would watch those tapes all day.”

George got the opportunity to meet Williams in 2013, when the iconic performer visited the popular Atlanta comedy club Laughing Skull Lounge. After taking in a performance by fellow comic Rob Overton, Williams “hung out” with George, Overton and two other comics in the club’s green room.

The quick-thinking, larger-than-life force of comedy Williams portrayed on screen and stage wasn’t so different from his real-life persona.

“He just joked around with us,” George said. “He was way funnier than you would even imagine, and the nicest person, the sweetest man. He was incredibly fast and quick (with his comedy).”

At age 63, Williams’ career spanned more than three decades in film, television and stand-up comedy. The actor got his big break in the 1978 “Happy Days” spinoff “Mork and Mindy” playing the alien Mork, a character Williams created. The success of his television debut led to Williams becoming one of the most beloved performers of the ‘80s and ‘90s for his roles in such iconic films as “Hook,” “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Jumanji” and “The Birdcage.”

A native of Chicago, Williams was one of the few high-profile comic actors who transitioned seamlessly into dramatic films. He garnered Academy Award nominations for both his performance in 1987’s “Good Morning, Vietnam” and his dramatic turn in 1989’s “Dead Poets Society.” Williams finally won a statuette for Best Supporting Actor in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.”

His dramatic roles still command huge respect in the entertainment business.

“I think (Williams) won the Oscar for his best performance in ‘Good Will Hunting’,” said Jim Hammond, managing director for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. “I also have a real strong connection to his work in ‘Dead Poet’s Society.’”

Members of all generations can identify a favorite performance by the late actor.

“I’ve seen ‘Jack’ about 200 times, and nothing made me laugh harder than that as a kid,” George said. “It was the same with ‘Aladdin.’ I knew every one of his lines.”

Williams’ success in all genres is evidence of his universal appeal.

“I just loved how in any situation he was in, whether it was a talk show or he was being interviewed, he always brought it,” Hammond said. “He always brought that energy and that sense of humor that made him so dear to us.”

Williams also continued to perform stand-up comedy, his original claim to fame, into the early 2000s. Several of his shows broke ticket-selling records, including 2008’s “Weapons of Self-Destruction.” Since his first performances in the 1970s, Williams introduced a new approach to stand-up that is still used today by the comedy community.

“(Williams) paved the way for modern stand-up,” George said. “It was basically just being silly on stage. When he was on stage he improvised like no other comedian could do — it was that fast. He revolutionized crowd work in that sort of way.”

“When a great dramatic actor dies, the world mourns, but when a great comedic actor dies, the world grieves,” Hammond said. “We didn’t just lose an actor, but we lost someone who has made us laugh through the years and has lightened our hearts. That’s one of the greatest gifts that one person can give to another.”


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