Funnyman Robin Williams gave comedy a darker edge

In this March 26, 2000 file photo actor/comedian Robin Williams performs "Blame Canada", a song nominated for Best Original Song, during the 72nd Academy Awards 26 March 2000 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. An outpouring of grief and homage greeted word that Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams had apparently taken his own life after a battle with depression. The 63-year-old known for high-energy, rapid-fire improvisation and clowning was one of the most beloved entertainers of his time. AFP/PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • The wildly popular 63-year-old funnyman, whose career spanned more than three decades, was known for rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness improvisations and impersonations.
  • The actor was reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and in July, 2014, he checked into a Minnesota rehab facility for help maintaining sobriety after a grueling year-and-a-half of work.
  • And even his more light-hearted films touch on deeper sadness, including slapstick "Mrs. Doubtfire," the cross-dressing character created by divorced dad Daniel Hillard in desperation to see his kids, who were living with a wife who sees him as irresponsible.

LOS ANGELES,

Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams shot to fame for his madcap stand up act and his offbeat alien Mork, but his most famous roles showed a depth of pain behind the comedian's mask.

The wildly popular 63-year-old funnyman, whose career spanned more than three decades, was known for rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness improvisations and impersonations.

On screen, his characters were often offbeat and eccentric -- from the zany alien Mork from the planet Ork, the television role in the 1970s that first catapulted him to fame, to the divorced dad who transforms himself into a elderly British nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire.

His skill at imitating voices was often showcased -- as in his portrayal of the genie in the 1992 Disney adaptation of "Aladdin," in which his character runs through a string of celebrity impressions.

But he also found success in darker roles, including an Oscar-winning turn as psychologist Sean Maguire, a Vietnam veteran and widower who counsels troubled genius Will Hunting.

BATTLE OF THE BOTTLE

But for all Williams Hollywood success and outsize public persona, the comedian faced private demons, including recurring battles with drugs, alcohol and mental illness.

He quit drinking and cocaine in the early 1980s, when his first son was born, but after 20 years sober, he started drinking again while filming in Alaska in 2003, he told the Guardian newspaper in 2010.

"It was that thing of working so much, and going 'Fuck, maybe (drinking) will help?' And it was the worst thing in the world," he told the newspaper, adding, however, he did not start taking drugs again.

It took him another three years to get back to sobriety, after a family intervention led him to rehab, he said, blaming his drinking for the breakup in 2008 of his 19-year-second marriage.

"You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that's hard to recover from."

It was health problems -- and open heart surgery -- in 2009 that he credits with being the true turning point.

"It breaks through your barrier, you've literally cracked the armour. And you've got no choice, it literally breaks you open. And you feel really mortal," he said.

During the three-hour surgery, doctors replaced Williams' aortic valve, repair his mitral valve, and correct an irregular heart beat.

The actor was also reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and in July, 2014, he checked into a Minnesota rehab facility for help maintaining sobriety after a grueling year-and-a-half of work.

FAMOUS ROLES

One of Williams' most famous roles was as radio disk jockey Adrian Cronauer, whose loud and drawn out "Gooooooood morning, Vietnaaaaaam" started each broadcast and was the title of the film.

The character bucks authority on the air, bringing US troops the 1960s rock music and lifestyle they missed from home, playing unapproved songs and riffing in quick-fire improvisations in between.

Although he brings humor to his portrayal of the character, the film, set amid one of the longest and deadliest US wars abroad, is hardly a comedy.

And even his more light-hearted films touch on deeper sadness, including slapstick "Mrs. Doubtfire," the cross-dressing character created by divorced dad Daniel Hillard in desperation to see his kids, who were living with a wife who sees him as irresponsible.

Williams was beloved as inspirational prep-school teacher John Keating, in the "Dead Poets Society," another character that defied authority with an unorthodox teaching style that ultimately gets him fired.

And in yet another dramatic role in "Awakenings," Williams played Malcolm Sayer, a doctor with a ward full of catatonic patients.

Sayer finds success with a treatment, shepherding his newly-awakened charges into an unfamiliar world decades after their mental freeze, but it is ultimately temporary.

But Williams left behind his darker side in films for children, including as the voice behind the genie in Disney's "Aladdin," singing the iconic, and award-winning, song "Friends Like Me," and in kids' romp "Jumanji" about a board game that comes to life.

ROBIN WILLIAMS WISECRACKS AND WISDOM

A marquee message at the Laugh Factory comedy club Hollywood pays tribute to the late Robin Williams, August 12, 2014, in Hollywood, California. Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Marin County home August 11 of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old. AFP/PHOTO

A selection of quotes, wisecracks and offbeat wisdom from Robin Williams, who died on Monday from suspected suicide in California aged 63.

"Nanu Nanu" -- Williams' extra-terrestrial greeting from hit television show "Mork & Mindy"

"Cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money" -- Williams on the perils of substance abuse.

"A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills, no, no. They'd make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while" -- Williams on the battle of the sexes.

"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it" -- Williams explains his comic style.

"Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, 'Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding.'" -- Williams pays tribute to his father in his 1998 Oscar acceptance speech for "Good Will Hunting".

"I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open," -- Williams jokes about his stint in rehab.

"You're not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you've met, she's not perfect either. The question is whether or not you are perfect for each other" -- Williams' character Sean Maguire offers relationship advice in "Good Will Hunting".

"It's all part and parcel of the whole genie gig: phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space" -- Williams as the Genie of the Lamp in Disney's 1992 hit "Aladdin."

"Goooooooood morning, Vietnaaaam!" -- Williams as motormouth armed forces DJ Adrian Cronauer in "Good Morning, Vietnam".

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.