In 1979, 27-year-old Robin Williams was comedy’s darling. As the first-season finale of his smash ABC series Mork & Mindy aired, he showcased the range of his talent on an April cover of Time magazine. In the main image his face was contorted into a goofy, wide-jawed wink, and he held a small TV set on which he appeared again, this time displaying a tender, ponderous expression.
Williams began a stand-up tour the following month and recorded two shows – one at the Copacabana in New York, the other at the Boarding House in San Francisco – for his debut comedy album, Reality … What a Concept. It hit No. 10 on the Billboard 200 on Sept. 15, a day before season two of Mork & Mindy premiered.
On the hyperactive 44-minute album, Williams careens from impressions of Karl Marx to Truman Capote to PBS children’s show host Fred Rogers. And as the Rev. Earnest Angry, he preached the “gospel of comedy,” informing the crowd: “I want you to grab the back of your TV and feel the power of comedy!”
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Williams built an unparalleled legacy spreading that gospel. Reality … What a Concept was certified gold by the RIAA and won a Grammy for best comedy recording. While the album is his only Billboard 200 top 10, Williams won four additional Grammys, two Emmys and a best supporting actor Oscar for his dramatic work in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.
But he will mostly be remembered for his comedy. At the 2014 Emmys, held two weeks after Williams’ suicide on Aug. 11 at the age of 63, friend Billy Crystal remembered him as “the brightest star in our comedy galaxy.”