A gigantic heart

A biography of the late Robin Williams surprises and delights – like its subject

June 1, 2018 11:51
3 minute read.
ROBIN WILLIAMS appears during a panel discussion for an upcoming HBO show in California in 2009

ROBIN WILLIAMS appears during a panel discussion for an upcoming HBO show in California in 2009. (photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)


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How would you explain Robin Williams to someone who’d never seen him? Say, an alien from another planet? (He did play one on TV.) Now you could just hand them Dave Itzkoff’s new biography, Robin, which does the deed in its mere three pages of prologue. Everything of Williams that Itzkoff describes, pinpoints and promises there is fulfilled in his ensuing page-turner, divided neatly into three sections, Comet, Star and Supernova.

There’s that space theme again. Yet Williams’s meteoric rise – in Mork & Mindy, ABC’s 1978 instant-hit sitcom of an interplanetary visitor vexed by humans – takes up only 25 of Itzkoff’s 440 bio pages (augmented by credits, copious source notes and index). The metaphor endures throughout. A first glimpse of Williams’s unique talent did and does feel like encountering some unknown species. His hyper energy. His joyful likability. His flash-fast wit. His playtime parade of personalities. When he metaphorically soared as Mork or scampered through his solo club antics (“stand-up” is too leaden a word), he bounced off the walls, doing anything to surprise and delight us.


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