While primarily known as a movie star, comedian, and guy with hairy arms, Robin Williams had a fairly prolific TV career. There’s Mork & Mindy, of course, which originated as a backdoor pilot from Happy Days, as well as his appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway and Inside the Actor’s Studio, but Williams popped up in many of the great sitcoms and dramas over the past few decades. Here’s some of his finest work, not including his standup specials, which deserve a write up of their own.
1. The Richard Pryor Show (1977)
The Richard Pryor Show only lasted one year, but it’s amazing it made it onto TV at all. Take the sketch above, for instance, in which Williams plays a defense attorney defending a black man on trial for murder in the 1920s. It was ridiculously ahead of its time, and Williams was a revelation on the show. That helps explain why Pryor let Williams roast him.
2. The Larry Sanders Show (1992/1994)
Looking like a homeless Riddler, or in his words, an “Irish pimp,” Williams showed up in an early episode of The Larry Sanders Show as himself, albeit a more paranoid version, someone who’s constantly second-guessing his every word (OK, maybe fact and fiction aren’t so far apart). He shows up again in the season three premiere, this time without that hideous green suit.
3. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1992)
Yesterday, we showed a clip of Williams’ first Tonight Show appearance, but don’t forget, he and Bette Midler were also Carson’s last guests, too. “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is the moment everyone remembers, but Williams was at his manic best before Midler sent in the clowns.
4. Homicide: Life on the Street (1994)
Years before One Hour Photo, Williams gave a stellar dramatic performance on Homicide as Robert Ellison, whose wife is shot in front of him and their kids, one of whom is played by a young Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s an emotionally draining episode, one that earned David Mills and David Simon the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay of an Episodic Drama. Williams, too, was nominated for an award (the Emmy for Guest Actor in a Drama Series), but he lost to Richard Kiley. No shame in losing to the Man of La Mancha.
5. Friends (1997)
Williams and Billy Crystal appeared in the season three’s “The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion,” which is the one with the ultimate fighting champion. Oh, and the one with Williams and Crystal as Tomas and Tim, who ask Joey, Phoebe, etc. to make room for them on their sofa before getting into a very loud, very public fight. The comedian buddies weren’t supposed to be in the episode, but they just so happened to be filming nearby, and the Friends‘ writers wrote them into the script. Much of it was ad libbed.
6. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2008)
You’re nobody until you’ve been arrested on Law & Order.
7. Wilfred (2012)
In one of Wilfred‘s best mind-f*ck episodes, “Progress,” Elijah Wood’s Ryan goes insane and Williams plays his therapist, Dr. Eddy. With so much craziness in the story already, Williams actually gives a fairly subdued performance. Plus, “Holy sh*t, it’s Robin Williams!”
8. Louie (2012)
When a friend of theirs dies, Louis C.K. and Williams bond over shared memories. And then they realize something: Barney wasn’t a friend; he was the “biggest piece of sh*t I ever knew,” someone who stole money from comics, but they still feel like they have to attend his funeral, because the only thing worse than being alone in life is being alone when you’re being buried into the ground. Later on in the episode, the pair head to Barney’s second home, a strip club, where his death is greeted not with indifference, but tears and “Sister Christian.” He was a saint at Sweet Charity, and only at Sweet Charity. In typical Louie fashion, the segment is dark and hilarious, a tone that’s summed up beautifully in the eulogy, “You’re dead, and no one liked you.” Unlike Barney, Robin Williams’ funeral will be packed. Everyone liked him.