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An excited Robin Williams shows off his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the press

From 'Mork' to Oscar, a look at Robin Williams' career

A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly report
From Correspondent Judd Rose

(CNN) -- Entertainment Weekly recently took an "Encore" look at the career of comic-turned-actor Robin Williams. It was 20 years ago this month when Williams first greeted audiences with the words "Nanu, nanu" on his new ABC sitcom.

Although "Mork and Mindy" was a short-lived network hit, it launched Williams on his critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning acting career.

Co-starring with Pam Dawber, Williams played an alien sent to Earth to study human life. He was taken in by, and eventually fell in love with, Mindy, played by Dawber.

Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in "Good Will Hunting"

The gift

Williams' gift for hysterical ad libs confounded the show's writers. At one point, they were so frustrated by his refusal to read what they wrote, they submitted a script that simply read, "Mork does his own thing."

Williams was nominated for an Emmy as outstanding actor in a comedy series after the 1978-79 season, but lost to Carroll O'Connor of "All in the Family." Not long after that, audiences began to tune out "Mork and Mindy."

The show was canceled in 1982, after four seasons. Ratings were approaching rock bottom, and so was Williams. With fame and wealth, he'd become a heavy partier and frequent cocaine user. But the overdose death of his friend, John Belushi, was a sobering hint of his own future. Williams cleaned up and decided his next splash would be on the big screen.

Robin Willams accepts his first Oscar

Road to Oscar

His movie career started with a big-budget flop, "Popeye." But his well-received performance in "The World According to Garp" served notice that this was a funny man with serious acting skills.

Williams' breakthrough was 1987's "Good Morning Vietnam, " which earned him his first Oscar nomination. He didn't win then.

And he didn't win for his Oscar-nominated performances in "Dead Poets Society" in 1989 and "The Fisher King" in 1991. Oscar completely overlooked some of Williams' most memorable performances: as a doctor in "Awakenings," as a woman in "Mrs. Doubtfire," and as the voice of the genie in Disney's animated "Aladdin."

But Williams finally took home the gold this year, as Best Supporting Actor in "Good Will Hunting." He'll be seen next in "What Dreams May Come," which opens nationwide on October 2.

Robin Williams refuses to agree with those who've labeled him as a comic genius. He once said, "I just get flashes once in a while -- riffs." Maybe, but to millions of his fans, there is genius in those riffs.

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