Comedian and actor Robin Williams was known and loved all over the world for his fast-paced, improvisational comedy style and his ability to switch effortlessly to dramatic acting in some of the most iconic films of the 20th century.
Born in Chicago, Illinois on 21 July 1951, he credited his mother Laurie with being an important influence on his sense of humour. He excelled at school and became involved with his high school drama department, where friends recalled him as being very funny. He honed his skills in stand-up comedy, making his name with his quick-fire wit and improvisation skills.
His big break in television came in the form of comedy television show, Mork and Mindy, in which he played an alien who had come to earth from the planet Ork to study humans. It ran from 1978 to 1982, with the gentle humour of the storylines centred on Mork’s often ill-fated attempts to understand human behaviour.
In 1980, he took the starring role in Popeye, which lead to a string of critically-acclaimed films such as Good Morning Vietnam in 1987, Dead Poets Society in 1989, Mrs Doubtfire in 1993, Jumanji in 1995, Good Will Hunting in 1997 and Night at the Museum in 2006.
Throughout his long career, he won 16 global awards for his television and film work: two Golden Globes for Best Actor for Mork and Mindy in 1978 and 1980, further Golden Globes for Best Actor in Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting and the Golden Globe Cecil B DeMille Award in 2005 for his outstanding contribution to the world of entertainment.
Williams was a great philanthropist, launching Comic Relief USA with fellow actors Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg in 1986. The annual televised benefit in aid of helping homeless people has raised more than $80 million to date. He gave benefit performances in aid of causes such as women’s rights, literacy and veterans and he also travelled to 13 countries and performed for around 100,000 troops.
In later life, the star began to demonstrate signs of the condition Lewy Body Dementia, which is believed to affect more than 100,000 people in Britain. Symptoms are similar to those experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease, such as problems with memory, thinking, understanding and judgment. It can cause periods of fluctuating alertness, confusion or sleepiness, which can change over a matter of hours or several days. The outward physical symptoms can include stiff limbs, slow movement, tremors and uncontrollable shaking, hallucinations, fainting, disturbed sleep (often with shouting and violent movements) unsteadiness and falls.
Currently, there’s no cure for Lewy Body Dementia which is caused by abnormal deposits of protein, known as Lewy Bodies, forming inside the brain cells. It isn’t known how the proteins develop, although it’s believed they affect the brain’s normal function by interfering with the signals sent between brain cells.
The speed with which Lewy Body Dementia progresses varies from person to person. Home-based help is usually necessary and some people will need nursing home care.
Robin Williams died on 11 August 2014 at the age of 63. Broadway theatres dimmed their lights for one minute in his honour and fans created memorials on his star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A tunnel on Highway 101 near the Golden Gate Bridge was named the Robin Williams Tunnel in his honour in February 2016.
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