Richard Corliss has crafted exquisite stories on tight deadlines many times before, including cover-length portraits of Johnny Cash and Jimmy Stewart. But he counts Robin Williams’ death by his own hand as the most shocking. “The loss is more seismic, more poignant. His millions of fans have one question: Why? And one thought: Thank you.” Corliss is too wise to conduct an arm’s-length postmortem; but he does recall meeting Williams at a press luncheon in Cannes in 1998. “This was the calm, thoughtful Robin, bringing shading and insight to each reporter’s questions,” Richard says. “I now wonder if his cacophony of voices, his inner angel-demons, were making inspired fun of us all.”
Corliss was hard at work on his tribute when word came of Lauren Bacall’s passing–two precocious stars with enduring power whose careers played out across 70 years of history. It occurred to me to enlist another writer when Bacall died, but not for long. Richard has served as TIME’s masterly guide through Hollywood, and many other worlds, for 34 years, and characteristically, he volunteered for service again.
With his broadcaster’s baritone and bespoke sneakers (some featuring studio logos or cartoon characters), Corliss is a unique presence in our halls. He ranks among the longest-tenured critics in American journalism and is surely the most quoted writer in Time’s history. His warmth and eagerness to help young colleagues is such that one time, when his editors refused his request that he share his byline with two gifted reporters, he went back and rewrote the story so that the first letter of each paragraph spelled out their names. He can no longer entertain surreptitious smokers in his office, but he continues to flaunt a greater repertoire of film facts, tall tales, sharp insights and character sketches than anyone I know. Plus, every 20 years or so he finds time to write a book: Talking Pictures in 1974, a monograph on Lolita in 1994 and Mom in the Movies this year. His next project? “Get back to me in 2034.”
Nancy Gibbs, MANAGING EDITOR
FROM THE ARCHIVE
Robin Williams first appeared on the cover of TIME 35 years ago as the breakout star of Mork & Mindy. Musing about the throngs of fans he encountered on the streets of Venice, Calif., Williams said, “I felt like I was in the San Diego Zoo.” For more from that story, visit time.com/robin79.
BEHIND THE STORY
On Aug. 12, while covering the crisis in Iraq for TIME (see page 26), Magnum photographer Moises Saman became part of the story when the relief helicopter he was riding in crashed in northern Iraq, killing the pilot, Majed Abdul Salam, and injuring many passengers. The aircraft had just dropped off bread, water and other supplies for refugees in the Sinjar Mountains, where Saman took the above shot. “I really thought I was going to asphyxiate,” recalls Saman, who was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital. “Everyone was in a state of shock.” For more on Saman’s harrowing ride, visit lightbox.time.com.
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This appears in the August 25, 2014 issue of TIME.