We first met Robin Williams as the gleeful alien at the center of the hit sitcom Mork & Mindy. The 1978-82 series provided an ideal showcase for the comedian, whose improvisations and bursts of wit left audiences doubled over in laughter.
Williams soon became a movie star, appearing in memorable films like Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire and picked up four Oscar nominations during his career, taking home the trophy for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. His death on Aug. 11, 2014, came as a shock and exposed the personal agony 63-year-old Williams had suffered secretly with an brain disorder. On the fifth anniversary of his death, PEOPLE revisits the life and legacy of the wildly popular actor and comedian in a new commemorative issue, Robin Williams: Celebrating the Life & Career of a Comedy Icon.
The special edition looks at the late actor’s early years—from his childhood to an adolescence, where Williams began setting a course for stardom. Hunkered down in his family’s basement, Williams created an alternative reality, spending hours on end commanding his collection of several thousand toy soldiers. “I had to use all these voices and sound effects with my standing army,” he said to PEOPLE in 1978.
His mother, Laurie Williams, once said her son ‘was put on Earth to make us laugh.’ And in a separate interview with Newsweek, Laurie remembered Robin as an obedient boy with “beautiful manners,” certainly nothing like the madcap who would turn American humor on its head. He was, said storied comedy writer Larry Gelbart, “Like Groucho on speed. A giant.”
But he also suffered at times from depression and addiction. After a long period of sobriety, he reentered treatment for alcoholism in 2006. Five years later he married artist Susan Schneider. That happy union was cut short by the devastating illness that led him to end his life. In an interview with PEOPLE, his Susan Williams, shared how ‘it was not depression that killed Robin’ but rather a disorder caled Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), which causes fluctuations in mental status, hallucinations and impairment of motor function—something the doctors were able to pinpoint the diagnosis only after an autopsy.
When Williams left us in 2014, there was an outpouring from famous fans and friends. “He could not help but be funny all the time,” recalled Ben Stiller, who starred with Williams in the Night at the Museum films. “He would do something as long as it would keep you laughing. It is that infectious joy that we celebrate in this photo-filled special edition, celebrating the genius of Robin Williams and the joy he brought the world through his work.
“He was the brightest star in a comedy galaxy,” actor Billy Crystal once said of his beloved friend Williams. “But while some of the brightest of our celestial bodies are actually extinct now. Their energy long since cooled, miraculously their beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever, and the glow will be so bright it’ll warm your heart.”
PEOPLE’s special issue Robin Williams: Celebrating the Life & Career of a Comedy Icon is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold