'Good Morning, Vietnam' Producer Reveals Robin Williams "Thought His Material Wasn't Working"

Robin Williams
Courtesy Everett Collection

Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams (pictured here in Good Morning Vietnam) died Monday, Aug. 11, at age 63, of suicide by asphyxiation, according to police in Marin County, Calif. Williams, a four-time Oscar nominee, won a supporting actor statuette for Good Will Hunting for his portrayal of a wise and morose psychologist. He most recently starred in CBS' comedy The Crazy Ones, which lasted only one season.

Mark Johnson says the late comedian could "do an amazing riff" on any subject

The first time I met him was a luncheon just before we went to Bangkok for four months to film Good Morning, Vietnam. It was a transformative film for Barry [Levinson, who directed], for Robin [Williams] and for me.

Robin, who feeds off an audience, did his best stuff in front of British crewmembers and Thai and Australian extras. He would do some specific, iconic American humor. He would do something really funny and the crew would just be sitting there, maybe Barry and I would be laughing. It was disconcerting for him. He thought his material wasn’t working.

I don’t know when he read enough newspapers to be so topical. You could give him any subject and he’d do an amazing riff. How did he know what was going on in the Department of Agriculture?

Good Morning, Vietnam made him a movie star. He’d done some movies but they hadn’t worked on a  popular basis. The audiences knew Adrian Cronauer was the role Robin was destined to play. The moment it opened he was a movie star.

We spent so much time together during filming. We did everything together. Robin would get up in the morning and say, "We have to do yesterday’s work all over again. I’ll pay for it." I’d say, “What are you talking about! It worked great.” Spent so much time together after that. We were great personal friends. We would vacation together — his place in Tahoe and traveling together — me and my wife, Robin and Marsha [Garces], Barry and Diana [Rhodes, Levinson's spouse].