Robin, the Robin Williams biography written by Dave Itzkoff, is a must-read and the definitive biography of the late comedy legend.
I was late to reading this book and for good reason. Deep down, I knew it would crush me much in the same way that My Girls by Todd Fisher did. To no surprise, I found myself sobbing during the final three chapters. It was like losing Robin Williams all over again and it hurts no differently than it did upon hearing the news in 2014. He may not have been family but there was something about growing up being a fan that just made his passing hurt all the more. I finished reading the book during Labor Day weekend and I’m just now finding the time to get the words out now. And of course, this comes as we’re mourning the sudden loss of Norm Macdonald, who battled cancer in secret.
Itzkoff covers the comedian’s entire life and of course, the devastating post-suicide diagnosis. He leaves no stone unturned to say the least. One fascinating anecdote came during the filming of Mrs. Doubtfire, the actress playing his oldest daughter was expelled from school. Williams appealed to the school’s principal but it was to no avail. However, the letter was worthy of being framed in the office. But anyway, this speaks to the man as a person. Itzkoff shares his own Williams story and it’s just as touching.
Itzkoff makes sure to speak with the pertinent people who knew him. He doesn’t interview every family member but he doesn’t need to. Between Robin’s first wife and oldest son, we get the sense of who he was life as a husband and father. It wasn’t always the greatest relationship and G-d only knows how bad his alcohol addiction got. It was enough that he knew that living in LA wasn’t good for his life. Of course, John Belushi’s death had a big impact on him because he was there in the hours before it happened. When you experience a traumatic moment like that, you know you need to get clean.
In terms of his comedy life, there is no shortage of interviews or anecdotes. Billy Crystal was one of his best friends in the business. He is all over the book and shares many anecdotes. Classmates, coworkers, directors, the list goes on and on. Oh yeah, Itzkoff discusses Aladdin in-depth and this includes the aftermath. Only after the Katzenberg left would Williams come back into the fold.
During the section in the book on Jakob the Liar (a film that might have been better received if it were released before Life is Beautiful), Itzkoff writes: “He was fascinated with the otherness of Jews, admired them for their tenacity, and was furious with how they’d been treated by history.”
Dead Poets Society/Jakob the Liar producer Steven Haft was quoted as saying: “He realized that Jews had come out of this crime against humanity and ‘crime against humanity’ is precisely the sort of thing that could reach deeply in Robin’s heart. You add it all up and there is a kind of, barely explicable, Jewish consciousness in this goy guy.”
Williams is one of the funniest comedians I ever saw grace the screen. Sure, not all of the movies were hits but the man had talent. Even in some of his lower-performing films, there was something to admire in his performance. Itzkoff gets into why these films work or don’t. Not to mention why Williams went on to take the roles. Nothing is more tragic than his final year between shooting The Crazy Ones and the third Night at the Museum installment.
Robin may be sad at times but this book is a must-read.