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Detroit Free Press Julie Hinds column

August 12, 2014

By Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press

Aug. 12--For a freestyle verbal artist, Robin Williams left an amazing mark as an actor in scripted formats.

Trained at Juilliard, Williams provided the moral center for dramas like "Dead Poet's Society" and "Awakenings" when he wasn't doing emotionally rich comedy like "Mrs. Doubtfire" -- or serious humor misfires like "Death to Smoochy."

His death at 63 on Monday has prompted a deluge of tributes to his greatest roles. But the entertainer, who won a best supporting actor Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," was amazing in some of his less acclaimed ones as well. Here are five unsung gems that reveal the versatility of his acting.

-- Photo gallery: Robin Williams through the years -- Mobile users tap here

1. "The World According to Garp": He was barely out of his Mork suspenders when he landed the plum title role in this 1982 adaptation of a John Irving novel. Although Glenn Close as Garp's mother and John Lithgow as a transsexual football player emerged as stars from the movie, Williams brought a sweetness to Garp that demonstrated his potential.

2. "Night at the Museum": The 2006 Ben Stiller comedy brings dinosaur skeletons and Easter Island statues to life. But as khaki-wearing Teddy Roosevelt, the future president in wax statue form, Williams is surprisingly elegant as a man following a code of honor (and shyly crushing on Sacagawea).

3. "A.I.": Williams did magnificently inventive voice work as the Genie in Disney's "Aladdin," yet his contribution to Steven Spielberg's 2001 sci-fi dystopia as the voice of Dr. Know was just as effective in a different way. When Haley Joel Osment's robot boy lands in Rouge City searching for the Blue Fairy, this holographic doctor's voice is at once kind, heartbreaking, nonjudgmental and doomed.

4. "Law & Order: SVU": Williams was lauded for his creepy turn as a disturbed character in "One Hour Photo." He's just as chilling guesting on NBC's lurid series as a man driven crazy by grief who's out to get authority figures, including series regulars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni.

5. "Lee Daniels' The Butler": Williams played Dwight Eisenhower in this touching 2013 drama about a presidential butler (Forest Whitaker). With a little help from makeup, he channeled Ike, the World War II general and 1950s political leader whose reserved manner and serious image were everything the dazzling funny man wasn't.


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Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)

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