Robin Williams was one of our generations finest actors. He was a comedic genius with a mind that was constantly running a mile a minute. He was more clever than any of us could ever hope to be, and we were lucky to have had him for the short time we did.
While he passed away too young, Williams made a lot of amazing hit movies. Movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Good Will Hunting all proved he was capable at making entertaining content that we all loved.
But his first big staring role in a motion picture was actually in a movie that people often forget. Popeye was a live action version of the popular cartoon, it received mixed reviews, and it kind of always slips people’s mind when they think about his career.
He’s Popeye the Sailor man
Even thought people don’t remember it, it was actually a pretty insane movie. They went all out on the prosthetic arms, because Popeye isn’t Popeye without those beefy forearms.
Popeye comes into town and meets Olive Oyl, and of course discovers how spinach is the secret to unlocking his strength.
In the movie, Olive is played by Shelley Duval, an actress who has been having a really hard time in recent years. At the time she was struggling as well, but it was related to the experience of shooting The Shining.
Shelley’s issues with ‘The Shining’
She is known for starring as Wendy in The Shining and of course for her outspoken words on that experience.
“From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great,” Duvall said. “Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”
Duvall’s director refused to praise her work, and instructed everyone on set to do the same. The shoot was over a year long, and she was forced to cry for over 12 hours a day. She did manage to find one silver lining, all the crying ended up being cathartic.
“Almost unbearable…But from other points of view, really very nice, I suppose…After the day was over and I’d cried for my 12 hours, I went home very contented. It had a very calming effect.”
Shelley’s experience in ‘Popeye’
But her time filming Popeye was a lot less traumatic. She became close with Williams, and the role itself was one that even the critics admitted she was born to play.
Roger Ebert said “Shelley Duvall is like a precious piece of china with a tinkling personality. She looks and sounds like almost nobody else, and if it is true that she was born to play the character Olive Oyl (and does so in Altman’s new musical Popeye), it is also true that she has possibly played more really different kinds of characters than almost any other young actress of the 1970s.”
She was close with the director of Popeye, and after the grueling process of filming The Shining she was happy to have his support.
“He encouraged me to be myself on the screen, to never take acting lessons or take myself too seriously. When I play a character, at that moment nothing else exists. Certainly no theory. I try not to intellectualize. As Popeye says, I yam what I yam what I yam… and that’s ALL that I yam!”
As for her relationship with Williams, they got along great. “I had a great time on Popeye,” Duvall said. “Robin, I loved Robin. He was so much fun to work with. He came up with the best jokes outta nowhere, like off camera.”
Duvall’s mental illness becomes public
The actress has since retired from the public eye, and hasn’t been in any movies since 2002, but it turns out it was because she was dealing with her mental illness. The news first broke thanks to the National Enquirer in 2009, but since her mental health has continued to be a problem for the actress.
In 2016, just two years after Williams’s suicide, Duvall spoke with Dr. Phil McGraw about her former friend, and her words were concerning. McGraw has been criticized for conducting this interview because it is very clear that she is in need of real medical intervention. Even in the interview itself Duvall says “I’m very sick, I need help,” and yet McGraw still aired the episode.
However, in the controversial episode, Duvall revealed some of her thoughts on life, and one that was particularly interesting was regarding her co-star Robin Williams. McGraw asked her how she felt about Williams passing and Duvall responded by saying that he wasn’t actually dead.
But the thing is, she doesn’t mean it in the way that a lot of people do, where his spirit lives on in Heaven, she meant that he is actually still alive.
McGraw asked her what she thinks happened to Williams and she said that he is “Shapeshifting.”
She said that “He looks real good in some forms and in other forms he doesn’t.”
When asked if she sees him, she answered “have, yes.”
The fallout after the interview
The interview was concerning enough that people became really upset about her treatment. Even Vivian Kubrick, daughter of The Shinning director Stanley Kubrick, sent him a message saying that his actions made her “recoil in complete disgust,” calling it “appallingly cruel.”
McGraw does claim that he sent her to a treatment facility after the interview and now she is home receiving treatment, but Duvall had different thoughts on the situation. “I was put in a facility. It was very subtle. They didn’t say, ‘You’re a prisoner,’ but you can’t get out,” she said.
Hope for the future
As sad of a story as this is, there is some hope. She is interested in returning to Hollywood. “I would consider offers, but they’d have to be good. I won Best Actress at Cannes. My awards have to mean something in terms of money,” she said to Radar.
She’s interested in coming back, but so far nothing yet. Hopefully the actress will be able find the treatment she needs.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues, make sure you seek help. It is so important to treat your mind right and take care of yourself. Talk to your doctor, or visit the Mental Health America site to find out more information.