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How Robin Williams Shared the Spotlight to Forge a Beloved Hollywood Career

robin williams

I was in the middle of vacation yesterday when I heard the shocking news about Robin Williams, who died of an apparent suicide. So I paused my family fun to I write this Quartz appreciation of Williams, who had seemed to crack the code for career longevity in Hollywood.

But Williams wasn’t content to just coast on comedy. He honed his dramatic skills in not-just-comedic films like Good Morning, Vietnam. That led to full-fledged dramatic roles in movies like Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and 1997’s Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Note the word “supporting”—even then, Williams was happy to accept smaller roles and cede the spotlight to others. That certainly wasn’t something his fellow comedy superstars like Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal and Jim Carrey were doing then—or now—with any regularity.

Even as he brought his career circle last year, returning to TV in The Crazy Ones, Williams went in another unexpected direction, generously ceding many of the show’s funniest lines to his costars. CBS had canceled the show in May, and now, sadly, we’ll never get the opportunity to see how the actor would have reinvented himself next.

How Robin Williams shared the spotlight to forge a beloved Hollywood career