RIP, Robin Williams: Remembering the actor's brilliant, dark turn in 2002

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

"One Hour Photo"

Robin Williams is dead. That's a sad and unexpected sentence to type.

As I watch the news of Williams' death spreading, he is rightly being called an iconic comedian, and laughs were probably the first thing that came to mind for most people. And yet my first thought was about what an underrated dramatic actor Williams was and the year of performances that made me realize that.

Williams was, of course, a funny man. He came to fame playing a wacky alien on TV's "Mork & Mindy," and his manic standup was indelible, but he was also a four-time Oscar nominee ("Good Will Hunting," "The Fisher King," "Dead Poets Society" and "Good Morning, Vietnam"), winning Best Supporting Actor for 1997's "Good Will Hunting."

But for me the year that defined Williams as an actor was his sharp and bold turn in 2002 with a trio of dark performances. He starred in Christopher Nolan's remake of the crime drama "Insomnia," an unsettling performance in which he more than held his own sharing the screen with Al Pacino. In "Death to Smoochy," he played on his zany comedic person as a children's TV host with a dark side. Finally, he played an obsessed photo lab employee in Mark Romanek's underrated "One Hour Photo," a performance of an everyday madman that could fairly draw comparisons to Anthony Perkins in "Psycho." The only better year I can remember from an actor in my lifetime was Kevin Spacey's similarly dark 1994-5 run ("The Usual Suspects," "Seven" and "Swimming with Sharks").

I'm not singling out this dark streak in Williams' acting as any commentary on reports that Williams' death was a suicide. That's an issue that's more complex than the knee-jerk reaction to the (incomplete) story reveals.

This much I know. Robin Williams tapped into a broad range of emotion on screen. It's not just the laughs that will be missed.