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The multitudes of explosive talent, as well as the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows that was his life, are nearly too much to pack into this singular biography of entertainer Robin Williams. In ROBIN, New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff covers both the tour de force and the tragedy animating him to audiences around the world. In a biography of a man like Robin Williams, it can be difficult to separate the myth from the man, but Itzkoff shows perhaps in this case that they are one and the same.

From the TV show “Mork & Mindy,” where he was puzzled by the ways of the Earthlings, to impersonating the alter ego of a Scottish housekeeper in Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams’ colorful imagination was always in action. A product of the Drama Division at Juilliard, Williams was the closest friend of actor Christopher Reeve. During his college days, he eccentrically performed as a Central Park street mime and in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art plaza. Though born into a prominent Midwestern family and attending elite preparatory schools, he spent most of his sometimes lonely youth playing with toy soldiers and absorbing himself in make-believe.

"Nothing can contain the vigor of [Williams'] aura, or the dynamism of who he was, but Itzkoff’s biography does well in replicating the irresistible energy through which he always performed."

Alcoholism and addiction held sway over Williams’ early adult life, leading him to be in “Saturday Night Live” star John Belushi’s Los Angeles hotel room the night he died of an overdose. Williams would become sober, and remained so for the next 20 years. It was during this fantastic transformation that he made many hundreds of appearances in comedy specials, comedy albums, on Broadway, television and in film. His spontaneous creativity not only came to him naturally, but also was part of a concentrated attention to his craft and energetic work ethic. His great ambition led him to disappointment in not winning the Oscar for Best Actor after being nominated for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. However, after memorably being cast as a psychology professor and psychologist in Good Will Hunting alongside Matt Damon, he was finally conferred an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The exuberance of Williams’ persona outwardly stands in such opposition to the way his life came to an end. His fervent creativity lied at the center of a reluctant core --- a concealed part of himself that only made its way into his characters in the form of a radical, burning authenticity. There was more to Robin Williams than the genius, intensive emotion, and boundless supply of energy and originality. This book gets to the indescribable center of who he was more than any other publication out there.

ROBIN is comprised of information from over 100 interviews from industry insiders, fellow comedians and his family. It embraces the hopefulness and joy of his comedic style. Nothing can contain the vigor of his aura, or the dynamism of who he was, but Itzkoff’s biography does well in replicating the irresistible energy through which he always performed.

Reviewed by John Bentlyewski on May 18, 2018

by Dave Itzkoff

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2019
  • Genres: Biography, Entertainment, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250214815
  • ISBN-13: 9781250214812