Robin Williams was a prolific actor who touched the hearts of people the world over with his charming comedic roles, playing memorable and touching characters such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Mork, and the Genie.
Williams died on Monday after taking his own life. Reports indicate he suffered from extreme depression. He was 63 years old. The actor was beloved the world over, as recent Twitter activity shows that even Islamic State supporters have been tweeting about his movies and expressing sadness at his death.
Over the years, Williams had described himself as an “honorary Jew” and in many of his skits channeled a stereotypical elderly Jewish lady, or alternatively, a New York rabbi. The legendary performer also played several Jewish, or at least Jewish-inspired, characters, most notably Tommy Wilhelm, in Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, and a Jewish Ghetto occupant in Jakob the Liar.
Recently, Williams posted a picture on Twitter showing him with a white yarmulke on his head, while on set of the CBS TV show “The Crazy Ones.”
Among the many accolades that Williams can attribute to his career was being one of the main entertainers at the annual banquet for the USC Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 2005.
Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal Rob Eshmen reminisced about Williams’ performance. “A comedy act at a Holocaust event is never easy—that’s a subject for a whole other story—but Williams nailed it,” he wrote.
Williams told Eshmen at the end of the event that being a part of Holocaust remembrance was “important to me.”
In an interview with The Jewish Journal, Williams reflected on how many people assume that he is Jewish, even though he was born and raised Episcopalian.
“People tend to think I’m Jewish. I love Yiddish because it is a great language for comedy. There are so many great words. And ‘nu’ is the greatest word of all. It encompasses everything: ‘What? How are you? Everything good? Bad? Hmmmm? Nu?,’” he joked.
Williams was among several noted celebrities who supported Israel, even when it became unfashionable to do so. In 2008, for Israel’s 60th birthday, Williams appeared on a giant billboard in Times Square wishing Israel a happy birthday together with other celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Elle and Dakota Fanning.
One of the elements leading to William’s popularity was in his ability to play the eternal outsider which he did in numerous roles and each time managed to inspire again, the viewers who adored him. This perhaps is another thing that aligned him with the Jewish people and Israel.
In a statement to the press, Williams’ wife Susan Schneider said: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”
Robin Williams salutes Israel at Times Square
As word of his death spread, tributes from inside and outside the entertainment industry poured in. Even US President Barack Obama made a statement.
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets,” the president said.
Stephen Speilberg, who worked closely with Williams on numerous projects including the movie Hook said, “Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him. He was a pal and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Williams’ personal life however was often short on laughter. He had acknowledged drug and alcohol problems in the 1970s and ’80s. Just last month, Williams announced he was returning to a 12-step treatment program he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work. He had sought treatment in 2006 after a relapse following 20 years of sobriety.
In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his three children: daughter Zelda, 25; and sons Zachary, 31, and Cody, 19, and millions of adoring fans all over the world, and especially in Israel.