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Remembering Robin Williams.

Aired August 12, 2014 - 11:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. This next half hour is going to focus on the life and legacy of Robin Williams.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Nischelle Turner has this very special CNN spotlight, remembering Robin.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: The death of the actor, comedian Robin Williams at the age of 63.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: A shocking announcement, the apparent suicide of Robin Williams.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR & COMEDIAN: Try a little faster.

TURNER: A brilliant comedian, a celebrated actor.

WILLIAMS: Dead poets are dedicated to smoking the marrow out of life.

TURNER: Yet a tortured soul.

WILLIAMS: I'll come back in the morning and I'll call you if you let me.

TURNER: On camera, he found humor everywhere.


TURNER: But off camera he was silenced by a devastating depression, with the world reeling from the shocking news, we look at the life and laughter, the darkness and despair. Now, a CNN Spotlight "Remembering Robin."

The vigils started almost immediately after the world learned that Robin Williams had died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be anybody. It can all of us. It wasn't just Robin. He was like the collective conscious, like a conduit for a lot of people.

TURNER: Heart breaking and shocking because this Robin Williams, dark and depressed, couldn't have been further from the man we first met.


TURNER: Mork, the alien was first introduced to us on the TV sitcom "Happy Days." WILLIAMS: Just count to three, specimens.

RONNY HOWARD, ACTOR: Hit him, Fonz. One, two, three.

WILLIAMS: No contest.

WILLIAMS: I got it as kind of a fluke. Garry Marshall invited a lot of come comedians. I went in, I thought let's be crazy. See what happened.

TURNER: Crazy and unscripted always seemed to work for him. He got the part.

WILLIAMS: Remember me? Mork from Ork.

TURNER: Working with Henry Winkler as the Fonz.

HENRY WINKLER, ACTOR (voice-over): And we started working and I realized I was in the presence of greatness. Hands down.

TURNER: Henry Winkler met Williams the day he got on to the set.

WINKLER: I just realized my only job is to keep a straight face and it was impossible because no matter what you said to him, no matter what line you gave to him, he took it in, processed it, and then it flew out of his mouth, never the same way twice.

TURNER: Born in Chicago on July 21st of 1951, Williams grew up in Michigan, played football, then settled with his family in California. Despite his shyness, high school drama drew him out of his shell and led him to become only one of 20 actors admitted to the prestigious Juilliard School along with classmate, Christopher Reeve.

WILLIAMS: We were both at a program at Julliard, which is a masters program, to get us into the acting company really quickly. He was brought in as the handsome leading man and I was brought in as the furry character actor. We were both in there. Houseman was sitting there, Mr. Williams, Mr. Reeve, the theater needs you.

TURNER: And created a lifelong friendship.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: Robin Williams is the definition of generosity.

TURNER: Chris Reeve told CNN's Larry King all about it.

REEVE: For 22 years, we go back to Juilliard together. There is this crazy story that we signed some pact. Like on a napkin in the cafeteria in Juilliard or something.


REEVE: If either one of us gets in trouble that we'll take care of each other in the future.

(LAUGHTER) TURNER: In 1976, he left Juilliard. Williams was on a fast track.

WILLIAMS: Nanu-nanu.


TURNER: Mork was such a success on "Happy Days," it would spin off as its own sit com.

WINKLER: You know, when he would break for lunch and he was working with Jonathan Winters on his show, Mork & Mindy, they would walk down the street together and all of a sudden just stop and then they would start to kibutz, then they would improvise and they would do this routine, in minutes, almost the entire lot was standing there like an open air theater watching these two grade minds go at it.


TURNER: In the years after Mork & Mindy, Williams would have great success on the stand-up comedy circuit.

WILLIAMS: It was brief, and it was over. The lights would turn bright. I'm melting. Help me.

TURNER: A comedic genius fueled by his incredible improvisation, something he discussed with jams Lipton.

JAMES LIPTON, TALK SHOW HOST: Are you thinking faster than the rest of us? What the hell is going on?


LIPTON: What is it that does this thing to you? Try to explain yourself.

TURNER: But it wasn't just Williams' brilliance. During those early years, cocaine also fueled him and a frenetic unpredictability became a hallmark. It would be the death of his friend of John Belushi and the birth of his son that scared Williams straight. Years later, addiction became part of his historic act at the metropolitan opera house.

WILLIAMS: You know what I'm talking about? Peruvian powder. Cocaine, anything that makes you paranoid and impotent, give me more than that.

TURNER: Coming up, a sober Robin Williams wins the world but his depression is still lurking.



WILLIAMS: Mork calling Orson, come in Orson.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TURNER: In 1980, Robin Williams was still starring in the popular sit com, Mork & Mindy -

WILLIAMS: Nanu-nanu.


TURNER: -- when he made his big screen premiere as Popeye for director, Robert Altman.


TURNER: "Popeye" and the handful of films that followed were mostly disappointing.

WILLIAMS: Good morning, Vietnam!

TURNER: Finally Director Barry Levinson found the role that fit. His role as a rogue military disk jockey won him an Oscar nomination for best actor.

As did his role as a quiet and inspiring boarding school English teacher in 1989's "Dead Poet's Society".

WILLIAMS: Dead poets are dedicated to success -- suck being the marrow out of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I once met a guy who said I gave up my job at Sears and became a teacher because of you and I said I hope things are going well.

WILLIAMS: Excuse me.

TURNER: Williams earned such a third such Oscar nod for his depiction of a man who becomes unhinged after the murder of his wife.

WILLIAMS: I'll come back in the morning and I'll call you if you let me.

TURNER: Then came his role as Shaun McGuire, community college psychology professor and therapist.

WILLIAMS: You don't know about real loss because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself.

TURNER: Finally, in 1997's "Goodwill Hunting," the role that brought him one and only academy award for best supporting actor.

WILLIAMS: You are terrifying of what you might say.

TURNER: Even while tackling his serious roles, he never stopped being funny and it seemed he was always on.

WILLIAMS: Movies on a plane and you see people just let me off. I can't stand the movie. I can't stand the movie.

BILLY CRYSTAL, ACTOR: I've had movies that have premier easy on planes.


I don't need the headset.

WILLIAMS: Put us down in Denver.

We were going to Tokyo, please let us off.

TURNER: Williams and Billy Crystal teamed up with Whoopi Goldberg to co-host comic relief, eight telethons using their humor to heal raising more than $30 million.

WILLIAMS: Use your fingers. Let go of yourself for the moment and get power.

TURNER: The last telethon was in 2006. The same year he played Teddy Roosevelt in "A Night at the Museum."


TURNER: 2006 was also the year that struggles with addiction led Williams back to rehab.

WILLIAMS: Live with Larry King.

TURNER: He would joke with Larry King about that and what came after.

WILLIAMS: You keep going because there's this strange secret organization that you go to.

KING: Alcoholics Anonymous.

WILLIAMS: Don't say it. Shhh. It's unit mouse. You go to those and you find other people who have done things that make you look Amish. You come over out the other side.

TURNER: Staying clean and sober would remain a challenge for Williams, even as other parts of his life seemed to be unraveling. In 2008, his 19-year marriage to his second wife would end in divorce. Then 2009, he would be rushed to the hospital, heart problems, surgery, and a difficult recovery he would laugh about on "The Ellen Show."

WILLIAMS: You have a heart surgery and literally they open up, and they crack the box. You are very vulnerable.


And you get very emotional about everything. It's a wonderful thing. It really opens you up to everything.

TURNER: Robin Williams' life trajectory would take a decided upward turn two years later. There was marriage to third wife, Susan Schneider, and his Broadway acting debut with Williams playing the tiger who ordinary rates the play. WILLIAMS: It's alarming this life after death. The fact is tigers

are atheists, all of us unabashed.

TURNER: Last year, his career came full circle when he returned to the small screen with former "Mork & Mindy" co-star in the CBS sitcom, "The Crazy Ones."

DAUBER: You are like an alien.

TURNER: But off screen, Williams was struggling with depression.

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST, DR. DREW ON CALL: He had at least three reasons to have severe depression. He clearly had the genetic basis for it and he had addiction, in a recent relapse, and he had cardiac surgery. When you have your chest opened up, the biology is such that it causes severe depression.

TURNER: On Monday, he was found dead at 63 years old.

PINSKY: The cardiac disease he survived, but the brain disease he was taken away from us, his family. The brain disease is what took him away.

TURNER: Took him away from family, fans, and friends, stunned by the loss.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yesterday, we had a superstar. Today, unfortunately, we have a legend.


TURNER: A brilliant comedian, award-winning actor, husband, father and friend, found dead in his home at 63. Robin Williams was beloved by those who knew him.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR & FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: The loss of such a great man and he was also a friend and I admired him and he's a legend and he's unbelievable.

WESLEY SNIPES, ACTOR: One of the greatest. We were all blessed to have that experience and those of us who had a chance to work with him are even more blessed. If anything else, I learned how wonderful it is to be an art it's by watching him. How wonderful it is. Rest in peace, my brother.


TURNER: He was also revered by the fans whose lives he touched.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no would be that can top him. For me, this is my hero that's passed. A really devastating die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're having a bad day, watching his movies lift you up.

TURNER: The closest to Williams say they are overcome by profound grief but what his legacy to be one of happiness. Robin's wife, Susan Schneider, released a statement reading in part, "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."

Various marquees of L.A. comedy clubs paying tribute, from the comedy clubs of Hollywood to the San Francisco neighborhoods he called home. On the streets of New York and in the halls of Washington, the outpouring of tributes to Williams are a testament to the impact of his work.

President Obama recalled some of his most memorable roles. "Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in between. He arrived in our lives as an alien but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit."

Williams' spirit was described by those who knew him as electric. Henry Winkler worked with him on the TV series "Happy Days."

WINKLER: He was electrifying. And he was like that no matter what he did all the time. When I watched him, when we crossed paths, when he was doing his show up the street on paramount, all I saw was boundless energy. He would work all day. He would go to the clubs at night and do stand-up and work on his act. You met him and there was a wave of warmth that swept out of him that covered you like a blanket.

TURNER: His talent?

WINKLER: Irreplaceable. There is no one to now fill his shoes. Those shoes will remain right there, empty forever.

TURNER: Comedians at Carolines in New York remember Williams with admiration.

CHRISTINE BASQUEZ, COMEDIAN: He was a genius. He was very, very quick. If you laughed at one of his jokes, if you didn't get it, he was on to the next one, so a lot of timings when you watch his stuff, you have to rewind it and go back because he's just so fast and it came naturally to him.

TURNER: At L.A.'s comedy store where Williams' career took off in the 70s, Paul Rodriguez choked back tears.

PAUL RODRIQUEZ, COMEDIAN: I was working at the comedy store in the parking lot hoping for open times and he talked to the owner and he said this kid deserves to be on the lineup. And I got on the lineup.

TURNER: Pauley Shore, whose family owns the club, reminisced.

PAULEY SHORE, COMEDIAN: When we used to have the comedy store at my mom's house, Robin used to pick up his check for "Mork & Mindy" in his outfit, he used to pick up his check and do nanu-nanu to me.

TURNER: In Hollywood, Williams is already an icon.

ANTONIO BANDERAS, ACTOR & DIRECTOR: Yesterday, we had a superstar. Today, we have a legend.

MEL GIBSON, ACTOR: As an individual, I think he had a lot of heart, a lot of compassion. He did a lot of things for people, publicly and privately. He transcended his sphere of expertise which is like a bench America of comedian and he crossed over to other areas and excelled at everything. He's gone way too soon. He was very talented. We're all going to miss him.

TURNER: He will be missed for more than his talent. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed appreciation for his military support. Saying from entertaining thousands of service men and women in war zones to his philanthropy that helped veterans struggling with hidden wounds of war, he was a loyal and compassionate advocate for all who served this nation in uniform. He will be dearly missed by the men and women of DOD, so many of whom were personally touched by his humor and generosity.

WILLIAMS: We've raised over about $1 million. I think there's more coming in. I feel real good.

TURNER: An active supporter of Comic Relief from its inception in 1986, Williams helped raise more than $50 million to combat homelessness. Regarding the shocking news of his dear friend's death, Billy Crystal tweeted, "No words."

WILLIAMS: Dorothy here grew up riding horses.

TURNER: Williams was also a tireless advocate for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

WILLIAMS: A tough cowgirl battling a rare and inoperable cancer.

TURNER: Generous is a word used to describe him time and again by those he knew, including "Bird Cage" co-star Nathan Lane. He said, "What I will always remember about Robin, perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent and astounding intellect was his huge heart. His tremendous kindness, generosity and compassion as an acting partner, colleague and fellow traveler in a difficult world."

A difficult world made lighter by the laughter Williams brought to it. Williams leaves more comedy work behind. He has several upcoming films, including another in "A Night at the Museum" series.


TURNER: Williams, who spoke often and lovingly of his three children, might likely consider them his greatest legacy. His daughter, Zelda, played tribute to her father on twitter with a quote by a French writer. "You, you alone, will have stars as no one else has them. In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all of the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night." She added, "I love you, I miss you, I'll try to keep looking up."