(CBS) – Robin Williams, the Chicago-born actor and comedian who became famous on TV’s “Mork & Mindy” and later became a big-screen leading man, has died.
Williams, 63, was found dead Monday at his residence in Tiburon, Calif., of an apparent suicide, Marin County, Calif. officials reported. He had battled depression and substance abuse over the years.
Williams was born in Chicago in 1951 and spent some of his boyhood on the North Shore before relocating to Michigan. He attended Julliard before launching his entertainment career. Known originally as a standup comedian, Williams won an Oscar for his dramatic supporting role in the 1997 hit “Good Will Hunting.” His wide-ranging film credits include “The World According to Garp” (1982), “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989) and “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993). He was the voice of the Genie in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin” in 1992.
His first major TV role was as Mork, an alien who ages backward, in a guest role on “Happy Days” in 1977. He later made the character famous in the TV spinoff “Mork & Mindy,” which ran for four seasons in the late 70s and early 80s. However, even before that, he was seen on TV in the Chicago area in an Illinois Bell commercial, showcasing the goofy voices that would later make him famous.
He had most recently acted in the CBS series, “The Crazy Ones,” about a Chicago-based ad agency.
“We toss around that term ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ far too often when talking about entertainment figures, but here’s somebody who was such a great standup comic, if he had never done drama he’d be one of the greats. And if he’d never done comedy he would have been one of the dramatic greats,” Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper said Monday evening. “There’s very few entertainers who could straddle that line and go back and forth between drama and comedy so easily.”
In a September 2013 interview with CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez, Williams briefly reflected on his Chicago roots, saying he was born at St. Luke’s Hospital. He said he moved from the city to the North Shore as a boy and recalled living in a relatively small home in Lake Forest.
“We weren’t living in a mansion. It was just a really nice little house in Lake Forest, but it was really lovely. I remember that being really good times for me,” Williams said.
Williams was honored by the Chicago International Film Festival in 2004. Even then, the versatile actor and comedian had a hard time playing it straight.
“I’d like to thank Mike Ditka for not running for Senate,” he cracked, referring to the former Bears coach’s flirtation with a run for office.
Williams’ many appearances here proved good times for fellow comedians. Just ask Aaron Freeman, who was onstage at Second City when the comedian joined him without warning.
“It was awesome. He had energy, he had awesome presence,” Freeman said.
President Obama issued a statement Monday calling Williams “one of a kind.”
“He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry,” the president said.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Robin Williams’ death,” said Andrew Alexander, CEO and executive producer of The Second City. “He was an enormously talented performer and a good friend of The Second City. On several occasions we had an opportunity to perform with him and it was always a pleasure. In the late 70’s, Robin and Martin Short spent a week on The Second City stage doing the most extraordinary improvising I have ever witnessed … Our thoughts are with his friends and family.”
Williams battled substance abuse over the years and had a connection to another Chicago comic legend, John Belushi. Williams said he ingested drugs with the “Saturday Night Live” star at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood on the eve of Belushi’s fatal overdose in 1982. He said the experience scared him sober at the time.