Robin Williams remains, and will always remain, one of our most beloved comedians. Even after his untimely death, his iconic roles in TV and film still continue to resonate with audiences of every generation, and his off-stage presence is remembered as warm and loving. Unfortunately, despite his comedic success and outgoing personality, Williams’ life and career was not always as heartwarming as the characters he played on screen.
With as many popular and award-winning roles as Williams had on his resume, it would be easy to assume that the fortune he accrued from his lifetime of work would have at least been enough to make life a little easier. However, that wasn’t always the case.
Who was Robin Williams?
Robin Williams was born on July 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois. His family moved to San Francisco before he entered high school. After entertaining his family with spot-on impressions of his grandmother, Williams found a knack for acting and began participating in high school plays. After graduating from high school and enrolling in college for a little while, Williams then moved to New York to attend the prestigious Juilliard School. During his time there, he focused his studies on stand-up comedy and began hitting the comedy circuit around New York.
The start of his career
Williams’ stand-out performances soon attracted Hollywood executives and he eventually earned the role of the eccentric alien Mork, who showed up periodically in the ’70s sitcom Happy Days. Willams’ portrayal of the character became so popular that Happy Days‘ executive producer Garry Marshall created a spinoff series centered around Mork, which soon became the well-known sitcom Mork & Mindy.
The show ran for 94 episodes and four seasons from 1978 to 1981, with Williams getting paid $35,000 per episode. After the series ended, he used his newfound fame and success to broker a deal with HBO for several stand-up comedy specials including Off the Wall, An Evening with Robin Williams, and Night at the Met.
The HBO specials helped solidify him as a great comedian and, combined with his acting chops from Mork & Mindy, Willams began to transition into film. He received his first lead film role as the classic cartoon hero Popeye in the 1980 live-action adaptation before following it up with the 1982 film The World According to Garp. Both films made Williams a serious actor in Hollywood and soon his popularity rivaled that of Eddie Murphy’s.
From comedian to Hollywood giant
Over the next 30 years of his career, Williams’ popularity earned him countless lead roles in major films. His acting had become so good that he soon stepped out of the shadow of his own comedy acts and began to take on more dramatic projects like The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting, which earned him his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
His filmography went on to include titles like Good Morning Vietnam, Flubber, Bicentennial Man, License to Wed, RV, and One Hour Photo. However, Williams’ most memorable films are Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, and Aladdin.
Out of all of his roles, Williams’ highest pay day was $20 million for his role as Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man, while his lowest was $75,000 for voicing the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. The latter seems particularly low considering the impact Willams’ portrayal of the Genie had on both the movie and American culture at large.
It’s not that Williams didn’t try to get his just due from the House of Mouse. The comedian actually accepted the low salary with a couple of conditions in his contract. The first was that the Genie character would not be used to sell any children’s merchandise and the second was that the Genie would not be allowed to feature in more than 25% of the film’s advertisements.
Of course, Disney broke both agreements and used the Genie as the main component in their promotion without paying Williams another red cent. The comedian could have taken Disney to court and demanded compensation for the breach of contract, but instead he refused to work with the company for years until the executive in charge was dismissed. Disney did try to send Williams a Pablo Picasso painting as an apology, but naturally that wasn’t enough for the comedian to make up for the financial manipulation on Disney’s behalf.
Despite the Disney ordeal, Williams hadn’t done bad financially. Altogether, his films have grossed $5.1 billion and over the course of his career, he even managed to accrue an impressive net worth of $130 million. At the time, he was one of the richest comedians in the world, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t stay that way.
Robin Williams’ decline
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Williams may have been a joy to watch on screen, but outside of acting, the comedian’s personal life was anything but joyous. Hoping to find love, Williams was married three times. Unfortunately, having ex-wives as a celebrity can cost a lot of money, and Williams ended up paying his first two ex-wives almost $30 million in combined divorce settlements when all was said and done. He married his third wife, Susan Schneider, in 2011 and the couple remained together until Williams’ death in 2014.
Aside from the divorce settlements taking a toll on Williams’ fortune, the comedian also set up trusts for his three children⏤Zachary, Zelda, and Cody⏤out of the $100 million estate that he had left after his death. After making sure that he took care of everyone else, Williams’ net worth decreased so dramatically that he actually had a hard time keeping up with his own bills, which forced him to make some hard decisions.
In a 2014 interview with Parade Magazine, Williams said, “Divorce is expensive” when asked if he’d lost all of his wealth due to his divorces. “I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money,’ “but they changed it to ‘alimony.’ It’s ripping your heart out through your wallet. My life has downsized, in a good way. I’m selling the ranch up in Napa. I just can’t afford it anymore,” Williams continued, adding that he “lost enough” but “not all” his money due to his 1988 and 2010 divorces.
Williams’ return to television
His financial situation was more than enough to get Williams to come back to television. After all the success he’d attained in the film industry, financial hardships prompted him to accept a steady paycheck for the sitcom The Crazy Ones opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar. Unfortunately, that paycheck was not as steady as Williams had hoped, as the show was cancelled after only one season.
According to Legit, Williams had been battling severe depression, Parkinson’s Disease, and Lewy body dementia for years, but his decline from film star to one-time sitcom guinea pig at the age of 63 caused him to fall into a downward spiral. Out of nowhere, in August of 2014, Wiliams committed suicide by way of asphyxiation through hanging.
His death shocked many around the world and his estate was soon fought over between his wife Susan and his three children. It was then that Williams’ financial issues were revisited and fans began to find out how much money he had lost during his career.
What was Williams’ net worth when he died?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Robin Williams was worth $50 million at the time of his death, which was a drastic decrease from his $130 million fortune. After giving the world so much joy and laughter with his many colorful performances, he invested most of his money in finding a soul mate and taking care of his children. It can be argued that Williams still had some time to make up for his losses, but the truth is that after all the work he put in during his career, the comedian shouldn’t have needed to make up for any losses in the first place.
At 63, Williams should have been kicking back and enjoying his retirement, not worrying about how he was going to pay his bills. Instead, his death brought a tragic end to a heroic man who gave a lot of himself to others and ended up losing his own happiness because of it. Although we lost a great man and fans will always miss him, at least Williams no longer has to suffer from the pain he kept hidden behind that boyish grin for so long.
May you rest in peace, King.