TIME movies

Remembering Richard Attenborough, the Man Behind Gandhi

Richard Attenborough
NBC/Getty Images

Sir Dickie, as he was widely known and loved, directed many a sprawling epic — but his signal gift was as an actor of bold, powerful and often creepy range

When Richard Attenborough was a teenager in 1939, his parents wanted to adopt two German Jewish girls fleeing the Third Reich. His mother Mary presented the option to Richard and his two brothers, telling them it was the right thing to do but that the decision was “entirely up to you, darlings.” Of course, the boys said yes.

For the rest of his long, accomplished life, Attenborough used the same coaxing charm to get what he wanted from producers, actors and audiences. “Attenborough was an old-school British film mogul who nailed down huge funding or casting decisions over a good lunch,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardian. “When he started work on Gandhi in the 1960s, he simply got Mountbatten [Prince Philip's uncle] to introduce him to Nehru [India's first Prime Minister] and took things from there.” At the end of his 20-year campaign to make the movie, he charmed the Motion Picture Academy into giving his grand, stodgy biopic Oscars for Best Picture and Director over another, far superior movie about a strong, benign outsider: Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

(READ: Richard Schickel’s review of Gandhi by subscribing to TIME)

Attenborough, who died on Aug. 24 in London, five days before his 91st birthday, knew everyone, from assistants on movie sets to Princess Diana, whom at Prince Charles’ request he coached in public speaking, turning Shy Di into a figure of poised charisma. Diana — everyone — called him Dickie, or, as the official honors piled up, Sir Dickie or Lord Dickie. He had a name for them too: “darling,” his mother’s favorite endearment for her boys. “At my age,” he said in his later years, “the only problem is with remembering names. When I call everyone ‘darling,’ it has damn all to do with passionately adoring them, but I know I’m safe calling them that. Although, of course, I adore them too.”

The famously affable Attenborough had sworn off his 30-year acting career when he became a director, but Spielberg lured him back in front of the camera to play the entrepreneur John Hammond in the 1993 film of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. In the book, Hammond was a fiendish Frankenstein of capitalism, whose scientists had revived dinosaur species to stock his crackpot-genius idea of a prehistoric theme park. But Spielberg made Hammond a visionary with a kid’s reckless enthusiasm, and Attenborough portrayed him as a Santa Claus bringing kids presents — some of which want to eat their recipients. The following year, Attenborough was Kris Kringle in John Hughes’ remake of Miracle on 34th Street.

(READ: Richard Corliss on Attenborough in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park)

Cheerful beneficence may have been a family legacy: Mary Clegg Attenborough helped found the Marriage Guidance Council (now known as Relate), which dispensed sexual advice to those otherwise afraid of seeking it. Her husband Frederick was a don at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where Richard was born on Aug. 29, 1923. His youngest brother, John, who died in 2012, became an executive at Alfa Romeo; the middle brother is David Attenborough, the polymath host-producer of BBC science series. Richard and David shared an infectious intellectual enthusiasm and the gift for clarifying, perhaps simplifying, big ideas. But Richard was no scholar. He entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (for which he would eventually serve as president) and, after joining the Royal Air Force, was assigned to its film unit, having suffered permanent ear damage during test flights.

The curious and salutary aspect of Attenborough’s distinguished acting career, during World War II and for several decades afterward, is that he often played flawed, shady or malevolent characters. He was the cowardly sailor in his 1942 film debut, in Noël Coward and David Lean’s In Which We Serve, and the submarine seaman driven close to madness by claustrophobia in Morning Departure (1950). He used a British gunboat to smuggle wine and armaments in The Ship That Died of Shame (1955) and played an electronics expert who sold secrets to the Soviets in The League of Gentlemen (1960). The Attenborough smile may have crinkled into St. Nick benevolence in his 70s, but early on it was the chummy rictus of a man intent on taking your watch, your wife or your life.

His most notorious and revered early role was as Pinkie Brown, the 17-year-old crime boss in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock — first on the West End stage in 1944, when Attenborough was 20, and then in John and Roy Boulting’s film version three years later. Running a small gang in seaside Brighton, Pinkie shoves one man to his death from a haunted-house ride, pushes another off an upstairs landing in his rooming house and scars the face of a third with the straight razor he loves to fondle. Pinkie gets his own cheek slashed by the rival Colleoni gang — sounds like Corleone — and marries the innocent waitress Rose (Carol Marsh) just to keep her quiet or kill her. At her request he makes a recording to memorialize their affair. As Rose gazes lovingly through the booth window, he says, “What you want me to say is I love you. Here’s the truth: I hate ya, ya little slut. Ya make me sick.” When the law closes in, Pinkie nearly persuades the girl to take her own life in what he calls “a suicide pax. That’s Latin for peace.”

Turning his smooth, boyish face into a soulless mask and toying with a cat’s cradle of string like a killer’s rosary, suitable for strangling, Attenborough made Pinkie an indelible villain: the mobster as monster. “In those days,” he later recalled, “the character of Pinkie was a macabre novelty in British films. It was hard to understand how somebody like that would feel as he razor-slashed you, or as he told a girl to put a gun in her mouth to shoot herself. That is the kind of enormity I had to convey.” He did it brilliantly, without shouting invective or italicizing his evil. His glassy glance was a Medusa stare, its own mortal weapon.

Brighton Rock (named for a hard candy sold at the resort) was one of six films, in a wide range of tones, that Attenborough made for the Boulting twins. In the first, 1945’s Journey Together, he played an RAF cadet who must forsake his dream of piloting to become a navigator. In 1948’s The Guinea Pig (known as The Outsider in the U.S.), the 25-year-old convincingly played a 13-year-old working-class boy brought into a posh school as part of a social experiment. Later Boulting brothers films cast Attenborough playing his more familiar shifty persona, with harried upper-class twit Ian Carmichael as his comic foil. In Private Potter (1956) his character steals artworks captured by the Germans to sell them on the black market. In Brothers in Law (1958) he played a worldly-wise barrister with an eye for the ladies. And in the corrosive satire I’m All Right Jack (1959), he played a scurvy businessman who wants to peddle missiles to the Arabs.

By his 40s, Attenborough was a respected character actor with an adventurous taste in roles. He was the martinet who bends his own rules to save his men in Guns at Batasi (1964). He was a henpecked husband, either standing by his domineering wife (in 1964’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon) or murdering her (in 1962’s The Dock Brief, called Trial and Error in the U.S.). He was the practiced philanderer in the witty social comedies Only Two Can Play (1962) and A Severed Head (1971) and, most boldly, the serial killer John Christie — mousy of demeanor, ruthless of intent and execution — in 10 Rillington Place (1971). His Christie makes a perfect cinematic brother to the slick and just as sick Pinkie Brown.

But British films couldn’t contain Attenborough’s ambition. He broke into Hollywood with 1963’s The Great Escape — he was Bartlett, the brains of the operation that sprang Steve McQueen, James Garner and the rest from a Nazi stalag — and parlayed that blockbuster into important roles as World War II officers opposite James Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and McQueen again in The Sand Pebbles (1966). And then, having achieved international renown, he realized that what he really wanted to do was direct.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s tribute to James Garner)

His first film as director was his most audacious: Oh! What a Lovely War, an adaptation of Joan Littlewood’s bleak synoptic history of the Great War set to the songs soldiers sang as they marched to their mass deaths. The battlefield would be the focus or backdrop for many Attenborough films: World War I in Young Winston (a Churchill biopic) and In Love and War (Ernest Hemingway on the front lines), World War II in A Bridge Too Far and his last feature Closing the Ring. He documented the struggle for independence in India with Gandhi and South Africa with Cry Freedom — solidly liberal films of the furrowed middle brow that came to life with Attenborough’s inspired casting of the little-known Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma and the young Denzel Washington as Steve Biko.

Attenborough was carrying the epic torch brandished by David Lean, his first director, but without the spectacular visual acuity and understanding of obsessive personalities that elevated Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia to greatness. Lean was the movie poet, Attenborough the conscientious craftsman. And when deprived of Important Issues like war and death, he often stumbled. His film of A Chorus Line (1985) captured none of the original musical’s urgency; his 1992 Chaplin, despite an impressive performance by Robert Downey Jr., was a bloated catalog of the silent clown’s misfortunes with young women. Only the 1993 Shadowlands, with Anthony Hopkins as writer C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as the American poet he loves and tends through illness, found a pleasing balance of tone and emotional texture, of heart and ache.

(READ: Richard Corliss on Debra Winger in Attenborough’s Shadowlands)

No question, the man’s life was blessed and lucky. The Queen made him a knight in 1976 and a baron in 1993, which earned him a seat in the House of Lords (Labour, of course). And in 1952, as part of the original West End cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, he received a share of the profits of that play, still running in its 62nd year; he used what was left of that annuity to help finance Gandhi. But fate had some heartache in store. Attenborough’s eldest daughter, Jane, along with her daughter and mother-in-law, perished in the South Asian tsunami of Christmas 2004. Years later he said, “I can talk to people about Jane now, although sometimes I can’t get the words out. I can also see her. I can feel her touch. I can hear her coming into a room.”

Attenborough’s co-star in both The Mousetrap and The Guinea Pig was Sheila Sim, his wife since 1945. In 2012, after being diagnosed with senile dementia, she took residence in Denville Hall, the actors’ home that she and her husband had helped establish. Attenborough, who had outlived a stroke and coma in recent years but was severely incapacitated, moved into Denville Hall with his bride of 69 years.

Sim, now 92, survives Attenborough in the shadowlands. As for Lord Dickie, he may be charming a whole new stratum of celebrities. We imagine him rounding up a celestial cast for some new superproduction — but only if they want to. “Entirely up to you, darlings.”

TIME remembrance

Ferguson Gathers to Say Farewell to Michael Brown

Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden
Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, wipes a tear as she stands by his casket at his the funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. Richard Perry—AP

Lively but mournful service was held at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis on Monday

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis on Monday for the funeral of slain Missouri teen Michael Brown.

Musicians, politicians, civil rights activists, and residents of the teenager’s hometown of Ferguson joined the family in mourning the African American 18-year-old, whose fatal shooting by a police officer on Aug. 9 exposed racial tensions within the suburb and sparked widespread demonstrations and several nights of violent protest.

“Michael Brown’s blood is crying from the ground…crying for justice,” said Michael’s uncle, Charles Ewing. “At such a time as this, God is shaking this nation.”

Though it was a somber occasion, the church sanctuary was often overrun with praise as family members and friends took to the podium to share memories of the young man they called “Mike Mike.” Brown would have been about a week into his freshman year of college on Monday.

“He said one day the world would know his name,” a family member said. “He did not know how his name would be remembered, but we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”

Eulogizers calling on members of the community to channel their anger over the death of the teen in positive ways—through voting and peaceful assembly—and calling on the country to take a hard look at how law enforcement engages with black and minority communities.

“America, it’s time to deal with policing,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered a speech at the funeral. “We’re not anti-police. We respect police. But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in the community that are wrong need to be dealt with.”

Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden, wearing a red sleeveless dress, sat just steps from her son’s closed casket which was surrounded by enlarged photos of the teenager. Throughout the service, mourners reached to console McSpadden, who was often overcome with emotion.

Brown’s funeral comes two weeks after the teen was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in circumstances that are still unclear. The investigation into Brown’s death is still ongoing, though the federal government has stepped in to conduct a separate analysis of the events alongside local authorities.

TIME remembrance

Mourners Gather to Say Goodbye to Michael Brown

Sixteen days after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., Brown's body will be laid to rest. The community of Ferguson is hoping that Brown's funeral will provide some peace after two weeks of sometimes violent protests

TIME movies

How Lauren Bacall Got to Dine with President Clinton at a TIME Gala

Lauren Bacall seated on a bed
Mondadori/Getty Images

...and other memories of the stage and screen temptress who forged an indelible liaison with Humphrey Bogart

I’m at least 84% sure this story is accurate. Eighty-four percent because I was in the room at the time, the other 16% because I didn’t see what happened but only heard about it. Even if the anecdote is not red-check true, it provides tantalizing support to the domineering social legend that was Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday at 89.

On March 3, 1998, TIME threw an amazing party for its 75th anniversary at Radio City Music Hall, across the street from the Time-Life Building. Tiers of tables, a hundred or so set on floorboards in the gigantic auditorium, held a glittering constellation of politicians, authors, scientists, athletes and artists, with each table of eight or 10 anchored by a TIME staffer. At table 38, which I hosted, the guests included Norman Mailer and his wife Norris Church, Tina Brown and Harold Evans, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Val Kilmer and a female agent from the Secret Service, ready to protect President Bill Clinton if necessary. Clinton, barely a month after the Lewinsky scandal had become public, was seated at table 1 with Toni Morrison, James L. Brooks, TIME Managing Editor Walter Isaacson and other luminaries. And at some table between Walter’s and mine sat Bacall.

But not for long. Clinton had come to Bacall’s table to speak with Barry Goldwater. When Bacall saw where Clinton was sitting, she strode down to table 1 and ordered a waiter to put another chair and place setting in that cramped circle. Voilà! She was sitting with the President.

(SEE: Barry, Bill and Bacall)

I relate this not to suggest that Bacall was a bully — though I know people who cringed and were singed by her hauteur — but because it illuminates the will power she thought she needed to demonstrate in the half-century after her early Hollywood stardom. In her 1978 autobiography, she paints an unflattering portrait of herself at 15: “tall, ungainly (I didn’t know I was ‘colt-like’ until a critic said I was), with big feet, flat-chested,… too inexperienced, shy, frightened to know what to do with a boy when I did have a date.” Yet by 18 the Brooklyn-born Betty Joan Perske had been a Harper’s Bazaar cover girl. At 19, she starred in her first film, To Have and Have Not. And at 20 she wed her 45-year-old leading man. Bogie and Betty, Humphrey Bogart and (her movie name) Lauren Bacall: a love affair for the ages.

Actually, their marriage lasted just 11½ years, ending with Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957. By then she was 32, and good starring roles eluded her. She moved back to New York, married actor Jason Robards Jr. — they divorced after eight years, in 1969 — and became the young doyenne of Broadway. The plays Goodbye, Charlie and Cactus Flower became movies, but with Debbie Reynolds and Ingrid Bergman, not Bacall. In 1970 she turned herself into a musical star and a Tony winner as Margo Channing in Applause, based on the movie All About Eve; and 11 years later won another Tony in Woman of the Year, a musical redo of the first film to pair Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She continued to grace movies and TV dramas (usually supporting roles) and plays (as a star). But the Bacall that the world loved and lusted for was the teenager who taught Bogart the wolf whistle in her first film role.

Nancy “Slim” Hawks showed the Bacall Harper’s Bazaar cover to her husband Howard, director of such Hollywood classics as Scarface, His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, Red River and Rio Bravo. Pleased with his reputation in discovering and nurturing female stars, from Carole Lombard to Rita Hayworth, Hawks imported Bacall to Hollywood and signed her to a personal contract. His studio, Warner Bros., wanted her teeth fixed and her hairline raised; Hawks refused. He liked her as she was, except for her already low voice, whose register dropped even further when she followed Hawks’ orders to shout out passages from a book (The Robe) into the canyons under Mulholland Drive. By the end she possessed that throaty voice that Tom Wolfe later called “the New York Social Baritone.” Smoking helped, too.

Bogart, in his third marriage (to Mayo Methot), paid little attention to Bacall at the start of the To Have and Have Not shoot, but he soon fell hard. In the movie’s famous early scene, Bacall stands at Bogart’s door and sultry-whispers, “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” She leaves and Bogart whistles appreciatively. That scene could be a documentary film of the middle-aged star realizing he loved his leading lady. Bacall was still a virginal “nice Jewish girl,” and she had adopted her eyes-up, chin-down tilt — what would come to be known as The Look — because she was a nervous ingénue with a case of the shakes. See how she projected herself into Bogart’s and the moviegoers’ erotic dreams? Acting!

Bacall had only one stage credit, an ensemble role in the short-lived Broadway play Johnny 2 x 4. But she had It. She arrived on screen grown-up. No other young actress could project her feline seductiveness — part lynx, part minx. Those qualities served her well in the three other films Bogart and Bacall made together. Hawks’ The Big Sleep, from the Raymond Chandler novel (and co-scripted, like To Have and Have Not, by William Faulkner), Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage and John Huston’s Key Largo were taut melodramas that sizzled from the combustion of Bogie’s weary machismo and Betty’s precocious allure. By her early twenties she was Hollywood glamour on ice. Her lips suggested she knew her impact on the opposite sex and found it less empowering than amusing; her eyes lasered through a man’s ego and into his id.

She chafed at the enduring connection to the love of her life — that fans and the press alike couldn’t think of Bacall without Bogart. (Everybody could think of Bacall without Robards.) The title of her autobiography, By Myself , asserts that she wanted to be known for herself, not just as Bogie’s Baby. Yet he was her costar in her four best films of the ’40s; the one she made with a different leading man, Charles Boyer in Confidential Agent, was a critical and financial failure and for her a humiliating experience. After Key Largo in 1948, and still in her mid-twenties, she was often cast as the older “other woman”: the brittle sophisticate to Doris Day’s ingenue in Young Man With a Horn, or Patricia Neal’s in Bright Leaf. In the 1953 How to Marry a Millionaire, Bacall was the third-billed brunet between two sexy blonds, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

She was felicitously paired with Rock Hudson in Written on the Wind, stood up to John Wayne in Blood Alley and took some of the starch out of Gregory Peck in Designing Woman. That romantic comedy opened in 1957, the year of Bogart’s death, and effectively ended her movie-star career. In the ’60s, like other Warners stars of the ’40s — Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Olivia de Havilland — Bacall went gothic in Shock Treatment, a tale of a lunatic taking over the asylum. She was the crazy one. A decade later, between Applause and Woman of the Year, was one of a dozen stars in Murder on the Orient Express. Her savoriest late role was as Barbra Streisand’s haughty mother in the 1996 The Mirror Has Two Faces. In a telling scene shared by two generations of Jewish movie queens — the ’40s cover girl Bacall and the ’60s “ugly duckling” Streisand — Barbra asks the still-resplendent Betty, “How did it feel to be beautiful?” And Bacall’s face softens into a glow: “It was — wonderful!”

Maybe it wasn’t entirely wonderful, being Mrs. Humphrey Bogart forever. Maybe that need to be her own woman not only spurred her through a long, versatile, accomplished post-Bogie career, but also gave her the gumption to move down to Bill Clinton’s table at the TIME gala. Still, 70 years after it began, she couldn’t control her legacy. She remained half of a smart, sassy, poignant love affair on-screen and off. Their warmth and electricity was the stuff of romantic legend; it outlived him, and now her, because it seemed the perfect, sexual and intellectual match. As Bernie Higgins sang in his 1980 ballad “Key Largo”: “We had it all / Just like Bogie and Bacall.”

TIME remembrance

Michael Brown Shooting in Ferguson Inspires Vigils Across The Nation

Demonstrators protested the shooting of the unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb

Demonstrators gathered in peaceful gatherings in cities across the United States this week to protest the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent police reaction.

“The number of people, specifically young black men, that are being killed without a cause is rising every day,” said a protester in New York City after dozens of police officers broke up a peaceful demonstration. “It’s not ok. They need to stop doing this.”

After a week of outrage, TIME presents photos from across the country.

TIME celebrities

Robin Williams Was Battling Parkinson’s Disease, Wife Says

Susan Schneider and Robin Williams
Gilbert Carrasquillo—FilmMagic/Getty Images

Says "sobriety was intact" when he died

The wife of Robin Williams revealed Thursday that at the time of his death, the late comedian was not only battling depression and anxiety but the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” said Susan Schneider, in a statement.

Parkinson’s affects nearly 10 million people, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. The National Institutes of Health cites that “for people with depression and Parkinson’s disease, each illness can make symptoms of the other worse.” Research linking the two has focused on depression following a diagnosis, but it can be assumed that the actor’s depression predated his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Schneider was Williams’ third wife. Read her entire statement below.

“Robin spent so much of his life helping others. Whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film or television, our troops on the frontlines, or comforting a sick child — Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid.

Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched. His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.

Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.

It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

TIME celebrity

Who Was Lauren Bacall? 5 Things to Know

Lauren Bacall
Sunset Boulevard / Corbis

The film star has died at age 89

Lauren Bacall, one of Hollywood’s most legendary leading ladies, died Tuesday at age 89. For those unfamiliar with the award-winning actress or her decades-spanning career, here is a quick crash course:

She got her start as a model: Before she made her cinematic breakthrough, Bacall was getting by as a model in New York City, where she snagged the cover of Harper’s Bazaar at the age of 19. Slim Hawks, the wife of To Have and Have Not director Howard Hawks, saw her on the cover and suggested her husband bring Bacall in for a screen test. Because obviously–look at that smolder.

She delivered this famous film line: In 1944’s To Have and Have Not, Bacall’s character tells Humphrey Bogart’s character, “You do know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” The line is ranked on the American Film Institute’s list of top movie quotes, coming in at No. 34.

She had some famous romances: Bacall and Bogart began their relationship while filming To Have and Have Not. They wed in 1945 when she was 20 and he was 45, had two children and remained married until 1957, when Bogart died of cancer. After his death, she was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra, but the singer broke it off — to her eventual relief. “Frank did me a great favor,” she told People magazine in 1979. “He saved me from the complete disaster our marriage would have been. But the truth is that he behaved like a complete sh-t. Still, that was over 20 years. When I run into him now, we give each other a nice hello.” Bacall later married actor Jason Robards, Jr., and with him had another child, Sam Robards, who also became an actor.

She’s known for the Lauren Bacall “Look”: “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie,” she told People about the origins of her trademark. “That was the beginning of the Look. I still get the shakes from time to time.”

She later became a theater star: Following her Hollywood success, Bacall eventually transitioned to a career on Broadway, where she won Tony Awards for roles in Applause and Woman of the Year. Despite the mark she left on movie history, Bacall never won an Oscar for her work, though she did receive an honorary award from the Academy in 2009.

TIME remembrance

Robin Williams: Comic Jen Kirkman Says He ‘Wasn’t Jaded’

Robin Williams Death
Paul Drinkwater—NBC/Getty Images; Reed Saxon—AP

"He just really wanted to see what young people were doing and laughing at," she says

Robin Williams, who died Monday at age 63, won an Academy Award in 1998 for his role in Good Will Hunting. But Jen Kirkman, a stand-up comic, author and longtime Chelsea Lately panelist, saw firsthand how winning acting’s highest dramatic honor did nothing to curb Williams’ humility or his love for comedy. She remembers the late actor as supportive of young talent:

“He was coming to UCB in LA a lot to watch any kind of comedy show he could — stand-up, improv, whatever. Robin was the first truly famous person I’d ever encountered who walked backstage, assumed everybody was a comic, treated them as such, and acted like, ‘Is it OK that I’m here? Don’t make a big deal, I’m not trying to get in the way.’ He would watch the show, then come backstage and compliment you specifically on stuff he saw. I remember chatting with him about [how] he was about to go on this big Australian tour, and he was just excited and nervous. He just really wanted to see what young people were doing and laughing at.

He was so warm and nice, and a genuine feeling of, he’s not taking himself too seriously. He won an Oscar for dramatic acting, and you would never know it. He was humble and graceful and polite. He was just nothing but excited to be around this new energy. He wasn’t jaded, or, ‘Lemme tell you kids how it used to be.’ I really liked being in his presence. I found it very fascinating — like, that’s how you wanna be.”

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