Becoming a heavy hitter in Hollywood isn’t something just anybody can do. It takes amazing talent, an unmatched drive for success and a healthy dose of luck as well. Only a very small percentage of people possess the qualities it takes to make it big on the silver screen.
The comedic virtuoso Robin Williams is someone who had all three of these characteristics from the very beginning of his career. If you watch any performance of his—comedic or dramatic—you’ll instantly realize why he was a star. He simply had a magnetic personality, and few just couldn’t tear their eyes away.
You’ll be even more impressed after reading these 33 little-known facts about this respected and accomplished actor!
1. You might have a hard time believing this fact based on Robin Williams’ popularity, but when he was a young boy, he claimed he had very few friends because he was so overweight. He actually started imitating voices to entertain himself as a result.
2. When Robin was a struggling actor trying to make a living in New York City, he would often perform shows as a mime for extra cash. He would usually act with a partner outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
forceduse / Imgur
3. The high school that Robin graduated from gave him quite the senior superlative before he left. He was actually voted “Least Likely To Succeed” by classmates. Boy, did he prove them wrong!
4. Robin received some very unusual advice while he was taking classes and training at the famed Juilliard School in New York City. He was told to focus more on his stand-up career than acting, which is very interesting considering that he’s an Academy Award winner.
Chris Bastian / Flickr
5. Despite the amount of success that Robin achieved over his career, it may come as a surprise that the first film he ever starred in was a complete flop. It was a live-action version of the popular comic strip “Popeye”—and it received scathing reviews.
Kevin Dooley / Flickr
6. While attending Juilliard, Robin became very close friends with Christopher Reeve, the actor who played the original Superman. As Robin recalled, Reeve would share his food with him when he was broke and scrounging for money.
Kenneth Hagemeyer / Flickr
7. Of all the impressions that Robin could perform, his favorite of all time was Jack Nicholson. Interestingly enough, Robin claimed that the comedian Dana Carvey could, in fact, do the best impression of Robin himself.
8. In one interview at the start of his blossoming career, Robin told a reporter he was born in Scotland, which wasn’t true at all. He later admitted he may have been slightly intoxicated, and changed his answer to Chicago.
9. Robin’s first big break into the limelight was when he made an appearance on the show Happy Days in 1978. He was cast as an alien from another planet, named Mork. The character was the inspiration for the hit spin-off, Mork and Mindy.
JasonChamberlain / Flickr
10. The day Robin auditioned for the role of Mork, he did something very unusual for the casting directors. When they asked him to come in and sit, he decided to do a headstand. He was immediately hired for the absurdity.
11. Robin was so talented at improvisational comedy that the writers of Mork and Mindy would purposely leave out large sections of dialogue so Robin could improvise entire scenes by himself.
Eva Rinaldi / Flickr
12. Like many of the celebrities in Hollywood, Robin was exposed to lots of alcohol and drugs. He fell victim to drug addiction, but thankfully became clean after the birth of his oldest son—and the death of his good friend and Saturday Night Live star John Belushi.
13. During Robin’s first marriage, he made the unfortunate choice of cheating on his wife with a cocktail waitress. The waitress ended up suing him for contracting herpes. It was a rough patch in Robin’s life, but fortunately, he managed to move past it—and, naturally, joke about it.
14. After he and his wife filed for divorce, Robin married his son’s nanny, Marsha Garces (below). Marsha was pregnant with Robin’s daughter Zelda at the time; they were married for 19 years before she called it quits.
Alan Light / Flickr
15. The name Zelda is very unique. After being questioned about the decision to give his daughter such an uncommon name, Robin admitted his son came up with idea by playing the well-known video game, The Legend of Zelda.
16. Remember the movie The Shining? The director, Stanley Kubrick, initially wanted to cast Robin as the lead character. After watching Mork and Mindy, however, Kubrick deemed Robin “too psychotic” for the role. It went to Jack Nicholson instead.
Loren Javier / Flickr
17. Robin was, apparently, good friends with Steven Spielberg. During the filming of Spielberg’s award-winning period drama Schindler’s List, Robin would call Spielberg with jokes and impressions in an attempt to cheer him up after spending all day on a solemn and depressing movie set.
18. After his good friend Christopher Reeve became paralyzed from a horse riding accident, Robin showed up to the hospital disguised as an eccentric proctologist from Russia who needed to give Reeve a rectal examination. It was the first time Reeve had cracked a smile since the accident.
19. Robin was a huge fan of the Monty Python comedy troupe. He loved the absurdity that they would frequently display. After Robin passed away, one of the Python members was quoted as saying that being on stage with Robin “would have been like being invited to play in a jazz band where you couldn’t play an instrument.”
Paul Townsend / Flickr
20. Robin was an avid cyclist. He would frequently go on rides through the neighborhoods around his home. He trained with Lance Armstrong a few times, and even got to ride in Armstrong’s team car.
Sebastian David Tinkgaer / Flickr
21. The word “shazbot,” which was employed as a vulgar alien term on the show Mork and Mindy during the opening credits, was actually invented by Robin. He had no idea that the word would make its way into pop culture, such as The Simpsons and some video games.
22. When Disney first had the idea of casting Robin for the voice of the genie in Aladdin, they knew they needed to do something special in order to get him on board. So, they animated the genie performing Robin’s stand-up act. He signed on shortly after.
JD Hancock / Flickr
23. Similar to the improvisational techniques used for Mork and Mindy, much of Robin’s dialogue throughout Aladdin was unscripted, which gave him complete creative control over his character. While this led to great comedic moments, it disqualified Aladdin from the Academy Award race for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Cliff / Flickr
24. When Robin discovered that Disney was using his voice to sell Aladdin merchandise after the movie was released, he was furious. He had specifically instructed them not to do so. As an apology, Disney sent him an original Picasso painting thought to be worth upwards of one million dollars.
25. The wealth Robin amassed over his career allowed him to purchase a vineyard located near his home in California. Even though it was beautiful, Robin admitted it felt strange to own an entire vineyard.
bjorn hornemann / Flickr
26. Robin and longtime friend Billy Crystal happened to be in the same building during the filming process for an episode of Friends. The two comedians were invited on set, where they improvised an entire opening scene.
27. Over the course of his career, Robin had many blockbuster hits in theaters. Jumanji and The Birdcage were two of his most successful films, each earning over $100 million in the same week.
Tony Altar / Flickr
28. Sometimes the earned pay in Hollywood doesn’t seem to make too much sense. Robin only received $75,000 dollars for his work in the Disney movie Aladdin, but he received $20 million for Bicentennial Man, a movie considered by many to be a huge flop.
29. During the filming of Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin wanted to test out the prosthetics, makeup, and costumes of the titular character to see if she was believable as a “real” woman. So he went to a sex shop and asked the clerk some very intimate questions about certain products. Eventually, they realized who he was!
Terry Robinson / Flickr
30. Even though Robin did not support the war in Iraq, he would frequently fly abroad to entertain the troops. He knew that the life they led overseas was in need of some laughter, just like everyone else’s.
National Museum of the US Navy / Flickr
31. James Lipton, the host of the famous program Inside the Actor’s Studio, featured Robin as a guest on the show in 2001. He asked Robin what he’d like to hear God say when he reached the pearly gates, and without missing a beat, Robin’s reply was, “There’s seating near the front. The concert begins at five; it’ll be Mozart, Elvis, and one of your choosing.”
32. During the same appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Robin made one of the members in the audience laugh so hard he gave himself a hernia. Now, that’s what you’d call comedy!
33. Even though Robin attained such fame and notoriety, he always remembered his roots and how hard he had to work to achieve his successes. He even set up a scholarship for incoming students at Juilliard to help with the costs. Robin had a magnetic and generous personality, and he will truly be missed.
Loren Javier / Filckr
Who knew that beyond the fame and wealth, Robin Williams was such a grounded person? We should all strive to be as influential as he was—and to not be afraid to laugh, even when times are tough!