‘Happy Days’: A Guest Star Quitting Led to Robin Williams’ Opportunity to Be ‘Mork’

by Jennifer Shea

“Happy Days” stars Anson Williams and Don Most had a front-row seat to the launch of Robin Williams’ career.

And they never forgot the shy, earnest actor who showed up on set the week after his “Happy Days” debut to hand out thank-you presents.

In 2019, the two “Happy Days” stars appeared on the Australian television program “Studio 10” to talk about “Happy Days” – including the single episode that launched the spinoff “Mork & Mindy.”

In fact, Robin Williams wasn’t originally supposed to appear in that episode. It all unfolded thanks to a guest star who pulled out at the last minute.

‘Happy Days’ Episode Was Inspired by ‘Star Wars’

In 1977, “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall went to see “Star Wars,” the biggest movie of the year. Afterward, his son asked Marshall if Marshall could do a “Happy Days” episode that included a Martian. And soon thereafter, in Season 5 of “Happy Days,” Marshall complied.

“It was the worst script in the history of ‘Happy Days,’” Anson Williams began. Then, to make matters worse, “Wednesday night, the guest star quits.”

So Marshall told the entire set that they had a problem. “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” he asked.

Somehow, Robin Williams’ name came up. They figured, what did they have to lose? So they invited him on.

“And there’s Robin Williams, improv-ing the whole frickin’ show,” Anson Williams recounted. “Nanu-nanu, standing on his head – I’m watching this, like, out-of-the-box genius. It was one of the best episodes in the history of ‘Happy Days.’ And 300 people in the audience are up on their feet at the end.”

Before they filmed it, the episode had generated a lot of buzz. So ABC network executives showed up on set Friday night, when they filmed the episode, to see how Robin Williams did.

“So all of a sudden we’re seeing all these network guys, that are never there, and they’re all there,” Most recalled. “And then like four days later, we hear, ‘He’s got his own show.’”

Watch the “Happy Days” stars reminisce here:

After Successful Career, Robin Williams Died in 2014

“Mork & Mindy” was just the beginning for Robin Williams, who went on to star in movies ranging from “Good Morning Vietnam,” “The Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting” to “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” At the time of his death, he had 112 acting credits to his name, per IMDb.

The actor’s personal assistant found him dead by suicide on August 11, 2014, per The Hollywood Reporter. Williams was 63 years old.

He was reportedly in treatment for severe depression when he died. He had also recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, although his widow, Susan, later said that Williams suffered from Lewy Body dementia. Distinct from Parkinson’s, the disease stems from abnormal protein deposits in the brain and can lead to hallucinations, motor problems and memory loss, among other symptoms.

Despite of the circumstances of his death, Williams’ public life was full of laughter, not the least of which was the joy he brought to the “Happy Days” set that one week in 1978.