Robin Williams: five quirky facts about the 'comic genius'

Actor and comedian Robin Williams found dead yesterday at the age of 63 in an apparent suicide

(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty)

Hollywood stars have been paying tribute to Robin Williams, who was found dead yesterday in an apparent suicide. The 63-year-old was famous for his quirky sense of humour and his roles in films such as Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire and Dead Poet's Society. He was also a successful stand-up comedian, starred in television shows such as Mork & Mindy and in 1997 was named funniest man alive by Entertainment Weekly. But he also struggled with alcohol and drug addictions, with his publicist revealing yesterday that he had "been battling severe depression of late". Hollywood director Steven Spielberg was among those paying tribute to Williams today, describing him as a "lightning storm of comic genius".

Here are five facts you might not know about the actor:

Voted 'least likely to succeed'

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Williams was apparently bullied for being chubby as a child and would spend time playing alone to avoid his tormentors, talking in different voices to entertain himself. He later realised he could gain other children's respect by making them laugh. At high school, his classmates voted him "most humorous" but "least likely to succeed". Williams went on to win multiple awards for his acting and comedy, including six Golden Globes and an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting.

Close friends with Christopher Reeve

Williams was roommates with Superman star Christopher Reeve while they were freshmen at the Julliard School in New York City before they were famous. The pair became lifelong friends and in his 1998 autobiography, Still Me, Reeve recalls how Williams came to visit him in hospital after the horse-riding accident that left him paraplegic. As Reeve awaited surgery, Williams burst in disguised in a scrub hat and surgical gown, speaking in a Russian accent and announcing that he was there to perform a rectal exam. "For the first time since the accident, I laughed," wrote Reeve. "My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay."

Ad-libbed many of his lines

During the making of Mork & Mindy, Williams ad-libbed so many times that the producers gave up trying to make him stick to the script. They deliberately left gaps in his lines, writing "Mork can go off here", allowing him to improvise. Similarly, in his role as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin he ad-libbed much of his dialogue. He reportedly improvised so much that they had almost 16 hours of extra material.

Cycled with Lance Armstrong

Williams was a keen cyclist and sometimes trained side-by-side with his friend Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner. Today Armstrong paid his respects to Williams on Twitter, saying: "I will always remember you as one hell of a friend. I love you and will miss you terribly."

Hoped heaven was an Elvis concert

In June 2001, James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors' Studio, asked Williams what he would like to hear God say when he arrives at the Pearly Gates. "There's seating near the front. The concert begins at five. There will be Mozart, Elvis and anyone of your choosing," said Williams. He added that if heaven exists, it would be nice to know that there is laughter. "That would be a great thing," he added. "Just to hear God go: 'Two Jews walk into a bar..."

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