Starting as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance.
His mother, Laurie McLaurin (1922–2001), was a former model from Jackson, Mississippi, whose great-grandfather was Mississippi senator and Governor Anselm J. McLaurin. Williams’ father, Robert Fitzgerald Williams, was a senior executive in Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division.
Williams had two elder half-brothers, Robert and McLaurin.
While his mother was a practitioner of Christian Science, Williams was raised as an Episcopalian and later authored a comedic list, “Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian.”
Born on July 21, 1951, he starred or co-starred in widely acclaimed films, including the comedy-drama The World According to Garp (1982), war comedy Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), dramas Dead Poets Society (1989) and Awakenings (1990), comedy-drama The Fisher King (1991), the animated musical-fantasy Aladdin (1992), drama Good Will Hunting (1997), and psychological thriller One Hour Photo (2002), as well as financial successes such as the fantasy adventure film Hook (1991), comedy Mrs.
Doubtfire (1993), fantasy adventure Jumanji (1995), comedy The Birdcage (1996), and fantasy adventure-comedy Night at the Museum (2006).
Williams attended public elementary school at Gorton Elementary School (now Gorton Community Center) and middle school at Deer Path Junior High School (now Deer Path Middle School), both in Lake Forest, Illinois.
He described himself as a quiet and shy child who did not overcome his shyness until he became involved with his high school drama department. Williams’ friends recall him as being very funny.
In late 1963, when Williams was twelve, his father was transferred to Detroit.
They lived in a 40-room farmhouse on 20 acres in suburban Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he was a student at the private Detroit Country Day School.
He excelled in school, where he was on the school’s soccer team and wrestling team, and became class president.
Williams began his career doing stand-up comedy shows in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1970s.
His first performance took place at the Holy City Zoo, a comedy club in San Francisco, where he worked his way up from tending bar to getting on stage.
In the 1960s, San Francisco was a center for a rock music renaissance, hippies, drugs, and a sexual revolution, and in the 1970s, Williams helped lead its “comedy renaissance,” writes critic Gerald Nachman.
Williams says he found out about “drugs and happiness” during that period, adding that he saw “the best brains of my time turned to mud,” (a humorous mis-para-phrasing of the opening of Howl by Allen Ginsberg).
Williams faced many personal challenges. He developed a drug and alcohol problem while working on the sitcom Mork and Mindy, and would struggle with addiction for more than two decades.
He also became involved in several tumultuous romantic relationships; while married to actress Valerie Velardi, he was involved with other women.
Williams and Velardi ultimately divorced in 1988. In the summer of 2006, Williams suffered a drug relapse.
He admitted himself to a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism treatment that August. On August 11, 2014, the 63-year-old comedian was found dead in his California home.
His publicist released this statement: “Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss.