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'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' Explores Comic's Creative Life


And finally today, we are going to hear more about the creative life of Robin Williams. He is the subject of a new HBO documentary airing tomorrow night called "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind."

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the film echoes its subject's ability to be forthcoming and hold back at the same time.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: This is an odd thing to say about a movie that looks closely at its subject's struggles with alcoholism and addiction, infidelity and depression. But HBO's "Come Inside My Mind" also turns away from its subject at crucial moments, particularly when it comes to Robin Williams' physical decline late in life and his death.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We have just received word that the Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams has died. The sheriff's office says that suicide is suspected.

DEGGANS: This clip from CBS News is the moment that most directly addresses his suicide, even though the movie has original interviews with many people close to Williams, including his first wife, one of his sons and good friends like Billy Crystal. Williams told friends that he had Parkinson's disease. The movie uses a clip from comic Joe Rogan's podcast interview with friend Bobcat Goldthwait to note that Williams's autopsy said he had a disorder related to Parkinson's, Lewy body dementia.


BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I witnessed this. I witnessed his processing reality completely different than the way everybody else does. He was going to doctors. He was in therapy. He was doing - and it just - the only reason I talk about that is his brain was giving him misinformation.

DEGGANS: It's telling that Goldthwait, who declined to participate in the film, still offers one of its best insights. But crucial questions still go unanswered in "Come Inside My Mind." What was this brilliant comic thinking as his mind and body declined? And what exactly is Lewy body dementia anyway? The movie doesn't say. It does offer lots of footage of Williams' energetic performances, from improv in college to standup concerts.


ROBIN WILLIAMS: This is Elmer Fudd sings Bruce Springsteen. (Singing) I'm driving in my car. I turn on the radio.

DEGGANS: There's no narrator. Instead, the narrative thread comes from the voices of interview subjects, with clips of Williams himself speaking on subjects like acting.


WILLIAMS: It's like some sort of zen concept where you finally say, OK, what do you think is acting? Don't do that anymore and stop. If you just relax, listen, be in the scene, you won't have to worry about finding them on the funny line or acting. If you just don't interfere with yourself, you're quite interesting.

DEGGANS: That's an ironic line because "Come Inside My Mind" reveals a creative force who's constantly getting in his own way. Williams's early success on the sitcom "Mork & Mindy" led to problems with partying and cocaine addiction. And his success in serious films like "Dead Poets Society" and "One Hour Photo" was belied by his insecurity and need to make audiences laugh.

The film itself seems to internalize some of that insecurity. It doesn't show Williams winning an Oscar, arguably his greatest acting honor, but it does show a clip from the 2003 Critic's Choice Awards, when Williams was up against Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson, lost both of them and jokingly took control of the microphone.


WILLIAMS: Yeah, thanks for nothing. It's a tie with three people. You pretty much said [expletive] you, Robin.

DEGGANS: There are lots of great nuggets here about Williams, including his early days of amusing himself as a lonely child, how friend John Belushi's overdose death scared him into quitting drugs and how his improvisational performing style helped change how sitcoms were film. But in providing a loving and reverential tribute to a legendary comic, "Come Inside My Mind" hesitates to fully explore the darkest corners of Robin Williams' complex story. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.