The film critic Barry Norman has accused the late actor Robin Williams of an addiction to “saccharine, tooth-rotting sentimentality” which he said would sully the Oscar-winner’s legacy as a film actor.
In a no-holds-barred column for the Radio Times, 80-year-old Norman said Williams’s CV featured a “plenitude” of bad films among the actor’s critically acclaimed movies.
“It’s hard to know what to make of Robin Williams,” he wrote. “Admiration is called for, but also sadness, not just for his tragic death but for an enormous talent which, if not exactly unfulfilled, could sometimes be spread so thinly as to be almost invisible.”
Of Williams’s movies, Norman said: “Every actor makes bad films occasionally but what was remarkable about Williams was not that he was so good in the good ones but that he was so very bad in the bad ones. He made no secret of his addiction to drugs and alcohol but there was another addiction, which he never admitted but which became increasingly evident in his own work – to saccharine, tooth-rotting sentimentality. Were the bad films made when drink or drugs played their part?”
The former BBC film critic, who presented its film review show between 1972 and 1998, said of Williams’s well-documented struggle with substance abuse: “You might also ask, what caused a man of such gifts to rely so heavily on drink and drugs?”
Williams won the best supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting (1997) and was nominated three further times for The Fisher King (1991), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Dead Poets Society (1989). Acknowledging these roles, Norman praised Williams’s work as a serious actor. “He was equally convincing in sinister roles,” Norman said, “such as the photo booth operator obsessed with a family whose holiday snaps he developed in One Hour Photo.”
One of the actor’s best-loved roles in Mrs Doubtfire drew mixed feelings from Norman. “The nanny is good, uproarious Williams; the father, all tearful sentimentality, is the bad one.”
Williams killed himself on 11 August. He was 63. He had been suffering from depression and, according to his wife Susan Schneider, was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Acclaim for Williams’s diverse body of work has been widespread in the wake of his death.
Steven Spielberg, who worked with Williams on the Peter Pan sequel Hook, said: “Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him. He was a pal and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Meryl Streep told NBC that Williams was a “generous soul”, adding: “It’s hard to imagine unstoppable energy stopped.”
Following Williams’s death, Schneider released a statement saying: “I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”
Many have honoured her request by flooding the internet with tributes to Williams’s work.
Norman was rather more measured in his final word on the matter. “I only met Williams once and then briefly at some film function. He was warm, charming, and funny, and I think everyone found him so.
“Certainly I never heard anyone badmouth him. If we forgive the bad films he is a great loss, because, given the right vehicle, he still had so much to offer.”At time of writing, Norman’s comments were receiving a mixed reaction on Twitter. @R_B_Stuart wrote: “I suspect when Barry Norman walks out on films he kicks the shins of Salvation Army bell ringers & slams doors on the elderly.