Last week saw the passing of one of America’s most prolific and talented comedic actors of the past 30-plus years: Robin Williams.
Over the course of his three decades in show business, Williams was known as a stand-up comedian, a television actor, a character actor, and a feature film leading man in both comedies and dramas.
Williams gave the world performances both silly and serious, goofy and grave. He made audiences laugh and cry in equal measure. And he did so with a comedic and artistic voice that was so unique, so singular, it is unlikely we will ever see an actor with a career as diverse and accomplished.
Williams’ first leading role in a feature film was the 1980 musical “Popeye”. Directed by Robert Altman, with music by Harry Nilsson, and co-starring Shelly Duvall (fresh off of her incredible performance in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”), this movie was loaded for bear.
Altman even enlisted Federico Fellini’s cinemetographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, and a host of European circus acrobats, to give the film it’s surreal, dream-like feel.
Since we are a horse racing site, I’ll share with you this number from the film, where Popeye sings the song inspired by his iconic phrase “I Yam What I Yam.” The setting is the horse races, naturally. Though the betting at this racetrack is not on actual horses but a mechanical, carnival game variety. Popeye is ticked off to find that Wimpy brought Sweet Pea to the races to help him pick winners in the races, so Popeye sings a song and kicks some butts as he liberates his adopted baby from the den of gamblers.
The film won some Worst Movie of the Year accolades from critics, and the numbers at the box office were disappointing. And while it may not have been the Oscar-worthy performance Williams gave in Good Will Hunting, it still is notable.
This is the performance that introduced Robin Williams to the world as a leading man.