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Inside Robin Williams’ lightning mind and creative soul

Madcap, frenetic, lightning fast: On stage, Robin Williams was seemingly impossible to contain. But a new documentary, "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind," tries to pin down the man whose public persona was often quite different from the private life. Jeffrey Brown reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, a new documentary takes a closer look at what drove Robin Williams, the legendary comedian and then actor, on stage and off.

    The film premieres on HBO tonight.

    And, as Jeffrey Brown tells us, the funny man's public persona was often quite different from the private life.

  • Robin Williams:

    This is a quick impression. A Spanish fly.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Robin Williams:

    Are there any Spanish people here tonight? OK, we can do it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Madcap, frenetic and lightning fast. On stage, Robin Williams was seemingly impossible to contain or categorize.

  • Robin Williams:

    If you look at a platypus, I think you might think that God must be stoned.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Robin Williams:

    God's up there in heaven going, let's take a beaver. Let's put on a duck's bill, OK?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The new documentary "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind" tries to pin down the man through those who knew him.

  • David Letterman:

    In my head my first sight of him was that he could fly, because of the energy. It was like observing an experiment.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And through watching Williams himself, his childhood in a well-off family first in Detroit and then San Francisco, his burst to fame as an alien in the TV comedy "Mork & Mindy."

  • Robin Williams:

    Good morning, Vietnam!

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    His work as an actor in such films as "Good Morning Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society," and "Good Will Hunting" in 1998, for which he won an Oscar for best supporting actor.

  • Robin Williams:

    If you disrespect my wife ever again, I will end you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And through it all, his own personal ups and downs, substance abuse, troubled relationships and a pervasive self-doubt, as characterized by his son Zak.

  • Zak Williams:

    His pathos was seeking to entertain and please. And he felt, when he wasn't doing that, he wasn't succeeding as a person. And that was always hard to see, because, in so many senses, he was the most successful person I know, and yet he didn't always feel that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Robin Williams took his own life in 2014 as his health began to deteriorate from Lewy body dementia, a rare brain disease.

    Director Marina Zenovich has previously made documentaries about filmmaker Roman Polanski and comedian Richard Pryor. She says she saw Robin Williams as a national treasure.

  • Marina Zenovich:

    He was someone who was immensely talented who achieved fame very early very quickly. And when you see how talented he was, you understand why that happened.

    And the film kind of explores how fame affects you, how it affects your life, how it affected him. He always had comedy to go back to. And I think he got — he needed comedy. He needed the love from the audience. It was a need in him.

  • Robin Williams:

    Come inside my mind and see what it's like when a comedian eats the big one. Don't be afraid. Come on in.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, the question is asked at the beginning of the film about whether his mind just worked faster than everyone else's.

  • Marina Zenovich:

    He had an incredibly quick mind. He was intelligent. He was well-read. He was curious.

    You know, it was kind of like a mixture of all of those. And the guy could perform. The guy could riff off anything. I mean, you know, you have to understand there's a difference between acting and doing improv and stand-up comedy. Improv is working off things in the room.

    He could work off anything. So you kind of combine all of that, and you get Robin Williams.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But you also show a man filled with doubt and insecurities.

  • Marina Zenovich:

    He did have a lot of doubt. I mean, a lot of performers do. I mean, I think a lot of creative people do. It's not a bad thing. We all have doubt.

    I mean, God bless the people who can show us. I think people loved how honest he was. And I think the more he kind of came to terms with his issues of substance abuse and what have you, the better his comedy got.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Inevitably, there's the shocking suicide. The suicides of successful people have been in the news a lot lately.

    How did you decide to handle this?

  • Marina Zenovich:

    This film was always a celebration of Robin's life. Of course, we were always going to talk about the end.

    And there is this feeling through the joy, through the comedy, through the laughter, through the loneliness, the neediness, the sadness, the tears, the comedy, you know, that we're going to get to the end.

    And everybody knows the end. I found it like a portrait of an artist told through his own voice, trying to understand the creative process. It makes people appreciate the creative soul. And Robin was a creative soul.

  • Robin Williams:

    Why do I stand up here? Anybody?

  • Man:

    To feel taller.

  • Robin Williams:

    No.

    Thank you for playing, Mr. Dalton.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Robin Williams:

    I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The new film, "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind" is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles and available on HBO.

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