As Hollywood mourned the death of Joan Rivers, who passed away yesterday at 81, I appreciated the opportunity to recount how she pulled off Hollywood’s greatest comeback, by clawing her way back into the spotlight after Johnny Carson had turned his back on her. As I wrote at Quartz,
Rivers also discovered that once you’ve survived Carson’s wrath, you can survive anything Hollywood can dish out. Who cared if Sharon Stone or Kristen Stewart got offended by her red carpet quips? So what if people thought she had too much plastic surgery? There was nothing anyone could say about Rivers that the comedian couldn’t say herself — and much, much funnier.
While Rivers is rightfully being lauded for her work as a trailblazer for female comics, her journey after being blackballed by Carson was equally spectacular. Farewell, Joan.
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.
I’m still reeling from the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead yesterday from an apparent drug overdose. As I wrote at Quartz, what might have been his best performance yet was still to come: in an upcoming Showtime comedy series, Happyish.
Last month, Showtime treated reporters at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour to footage from Happyish, which the network had just officially picked up to series. In the clips screened from the pilot episode, reporters and critics were laughing at the exploits of Hoffman, who played a bitter creative director at a New York City ad agency dealing with a new boss half his age. The footage promised yet another classic Hoffman performance, with a profane rant against social media and an uproarious hallucination involving a Keebler Elf. And even though only the pilot episode had been shot, with a likely series debut set for summer, many in the room—myself included—were already predicting that Hoffman would be making room on his mantle for Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG Awards for his Happyish role.
Those of us lucky enough to see that footage at TCA will always wonder what might have been. RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman.