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1978: Robin Williams freestyles on 90 Minutes Live

The Story

With his suspenders and a manic parade of comic voices, ad libs and one-liners, Robin Williams has the studio audience at CBC-TV's 90 Minutes Live in stitches. And even when he settles into the guest's chair for a chat with host Peter Gzowski, Williams can't turn off his shtick. In rapid sequence he portrays a space alien, "the world's most intelligent child," a redneck, a doped-up hippie and yoga guru Baba Rum Baba. Williams is a hot young American comic who's a featured player on the U.S. comedy show Laugh-In. As he tells Gzowski, he's just got his big break in an upcoming episode of the hit series Happy Days, guest-starring as a creature from outer space. He even demonstrates how an alien sits down - a pose that will become famous when Williams plays an alien from planet Ork in the hit TV sitcom Mork & Mindy.

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Feb. 10, 1978
Guest: Robin Williams
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 5:57

Did You know?

• Robin Williams was born on July 21, 1951, in Chicago, Ill., and grew up there and in Detroit. (In this clip, he says he was born in Scotland, but that was a joke.) At age 16 he moved to San Francisco, where he attended college before winning a scholarship to study drama at the Juilliard School in New York City. He began working in stand-up comedy and improv theatre, then moved to Los Angeles.

• In 1977 Williams was a writer and performer on the short-lived The Richard Pryor Show.

• When Williams auditioned for the role of Mork, the alien in Happy Days, he sat in his chair head-first, alien-style, when producer Garry Marshall invited him to sit. With that, Williams instantly won the role.

• TV audiences responded so positively to Williams and the character of Mork that the network built a spin-off series around him for the 1978-79 season. Mork & Mindy, which was set in Boulder, Colo., was the story of an alien from the planet Ork who is sent to Earth to observe humans. Mork is taken in by the sympathetic Mindy (played by Pam Dawber), who helps him understand human behaviours and emotions. (Orkans apparently did not feel emotions.)

• The show was a runaway hit, ranking third in the Nielsen ratings for 1978-79. Three's Company was second; Laverne and Shirley was first.

• In 1980, Williams began a long and fruitful film career. By 2006, he had made over 40 films grossing over $2-billion in total. He was nominated three times for an Academy Award as best actor - for 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, 1989's Dead Poets Society and 1991's The Fisher King. He won the award for best supporting actor in 1997 for his role in Good Will Hunting.

• Williams performed the song Blame Canada, from the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, at the 2000 Academy Awards.

• In January 2006, while shooting a movie in Toronto, Williams took the stage at various local comedy clubs. During an amateur comedy night at a tiny club, the Globe and Mail reported, he got up for 30 minutes, riffing on Canadian and American politics and many other subjects.

• Robin Williams died on Aug. 11, 2014. He was 63.

• In his book The Private Voice: A Journal of Reflections (1988), Peter Gzowski described Williams's appearance on 90 Minutes Live as one of the highlights of the two-season show.


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