Electric. Gut-bustingly funny. Innately good. These are the qualities that hit the moment one hears Robin Williams' name. Upon news of his death, we scoured USA TODAY's archives for the best of the star's interviews through the years.
We launch with this anecdote from Matt Damon, as he and Ben Affleck prepared to release Good Will Hunting in 1997 upon an unsuspecting world.
"I think the one image I'll always remember is Robin leaning out of the window of his house in the movie while a mob of people from South Boston came out just to see him," recalled Damon. "He was leaning out to do jokes. And this crowd of 200 was just laughing. Most actors would hide in the house. But he was put on Earth to make people happy. And what makes him happy is to watch other people laugh."
On avoiding Los Angeles: In 1996, Williams, who lived mostly in the San Francisco area since high school, admitted he loathed the Tinseltown. "It's more inbred than an Appalachian encounter group. Totally incestuous," he said. "You start to doubt your own existence. 'Oh, my God! I'm not powerful!' " In San Francisco, Williams said he felt relatively anonymous and at home. "People look at me like, 'Oh, it's you again. Can't you find someone else famous? I mean, bring your friends or something.'"
On knowing his fans wanted more of the funny stuff: In 1999, Williams attended the Toronto Film Festival and talked about preparing a national comedy tour. "I want to make sure the next film I do will be different, and the stand-up will help that decision," he told USA TODAY. "Then I can get away from that thing about `What happened to the funny Robin Williams?'" "But, of course, if they still don't think what I'm doing is funny, then it'll be time to do some very serious things: `The Mother Theresa Story."'
On his childhood: Williams spoke of mining his past as he took on darker roles, including the unbalanced photo technician he played in 2002's One Hour Photo. "You can call upon your experience, (in my case) being an only child," he said. "Any awkwardness you felt, you call upon the pains that manifest. Not everyone acts on them, thank God."
On life after rehab: In 2010, after heart surgery, divorce, and rehab, WIliams said he was a changed man. "There are boundaries," said the actor. "Especially now that I'm not drinking." (In 2006, the actor had started drinking again after 20 years of sobriety.) Williams sought treatment "when I realized I was just destroying everything. When you're having blackouts on a regular basis. Blackouts, I joke, are like sleepwalking with activities. But those are really frightening, where you wake up and you have to have people (tell you what you did). And then you go, 'This is scary.' "
Mischief at the Oscars: Williams could lighten up even the most serious members of the Academy crowd. Backstage at the Oscars, as Precious star Mo'Nique and Geoffrey Fletcher embraced, walking down the corridor to the press room, Williams jumped in front of them to lighten the mood, making "swish, swish, swish" noises as he swept an invisible broom in front of her slow walk. "It's curling, curling!" Williams said, finally getting Mo'Nique to laugh out loud.
On friendship: Back in 1977, Williams and John Travolta met up for a drink in Santa Barbara and ended up crashing a wedding together. In 2009, they finally made a movie together, Old Dogs. "If you can find comedy that is personal, it will resonate more with the audience," said Williams. "For me it was great to have that after rehab. I had forgotten how fun working with your friends could be."
On box office flops: In1997, Entertainment Weekly proclaimed Williams to be the 'funniest man alive.' But the tide can turn quickly in Hollywood and the same year Fathers' Day, Williams' much-anticipated onscreen teaming with buddy Billy Crystal, belly-flopped big time. "I call him now and then and say, `It's OK, man. We're going to be OK, man.' It was rough," admitted Williams. "But you get one of those and just pick up."
On life off-screen: As Williams promoted 1996's The Birdcage, a reporter asked: When the energetic, enigmatic Robin was not up, was he down? "Sad? No, I'm quiet," he said. "When people see me that way, they think something's wrong. No. 'You're on something.' No. I'm just recharging. In down times I do things like go for a long bike ride or run. The other thing I'm doing in that quiet time is just observing."
The actor did confess to acting irritable and moody at times, and acknowledged being in therapy. But, he insisted, he was basically happy: "The truth is, if anything, I'm probably addicted to laughter."
Contributing: Claudia Puig, Scott Bowles, Donna Freydkin, Susan Wloszczyna, Jonathan Alter (USA WEEKEND), Jack Garner (Gannett News Service)