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When Robin Williams Helped a ‘Baked’ Jack Nicholson Accept His Best Actor Award

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Robert Mora/ Getty Images/ Cropped
Photo Credit: Robert Mora/ Getty Images/ Cropped

At the 2003 Critics’ Choice Awards, the legendary Jack Nicholson was lined up alongside his fellow nominees. When he got to the podium, however, he realized that he was too stoned to give his acceptance speech. Instead of giving up, he asked Robin Williams to come down and do it for him. What happened next was entertainment gold.

About Schmidt

Nicholson’s award was for his role in the 2002 film About Schmidt, in which he played the title role of Warren R. Schmidt. The film follows Schmidt’s life after he retires from actuarial work. With all his newfound time, he decides to sponsor a young Tanzanian boy named Ndugu Umbo and sends him multiple letters. Meanwhile, he takes off in his new RV to try and stop his daughter from marrying a man he doesn’t approve of.

Jack Nicholson as Warren R. Schmidt in 'About Schmidt' standing in front of an RV looking up at the sky.
Publicity still of Jack Nicholson as Warren R. Schmidt in About Schmidt, 2002. (Photo Credit: TNC78/ New Line Cinema/ MovieStillsDB)

The film was a fantastic success with both general audiences and critics. It was produced on a budget of $30 million and managed to earn a whopping $105.8 million. For his role, Nicholson was nominated as Best Actor at the Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards, and Golden Globe Awards. It was his nomination and subsequent win at the Critics’ Choice Awards, however, that was the most memorable.

An awkward award show

The Best Actor winners were announced by actress Salma Hayek. Nominees Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicholson, and Williams went up to the stage. Hayek said there was a tie for Best Actor. “I’m going to call the first name,” she announced. “This wonderful person can come up here and say thank you, and then I will say the second name, so there’s going to be so much dramatic tension.”

Hayek called Day-Lewis as the first winner for his role in Gangs of New York before calling up Nicholson as the second winner, leaving Williams, nominated for One Hour Photo, on stage. Day-Lewis gave his thanks with little issue, but then it was Nicholson’s turn.

Robin Williams in a black suit with his arm around Jack Nicholson, also in a black suit.
(Left) Jack Nicholson accepts the award for Best Actor with assistance from Robin Williams at the 8th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards, January 17, 2003. (Photo Credit: Robert Mora/ Getty Images)

Up until this point, he’d been wearing sunglasses. When he approached the podium and took them off, it became evident to the audience that he was extremely stoned. If there was any doubt, he proclaimed, “Well, I don’t usually get this baked when it’s on television,” while trying to stumble his way through the speech. Instead of pushing through, he said “Robin, would you come up and give…Would you give the funniest acceptance speech I ever gave?”

Robin Williams saves the day

Williams, ever the comic, certainly didn’t disappoint. He put on his best Jack Nicholson accent and began, “What Jack is trying to say here… is he’s so happy to be here he could drop a log. Right now, he wants to thank Jeffrey Katzenberg for the lens.” Eventually, Nicholson came around and was able to function enough to banter back and forth with his savior, making for quite an entertaining evening.

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Nicholson jumped in after thanking Katzenberg, adding “And the seats,” which Williams rolled with. “And the seats…Hopefully, Shaq kicked his [butt] tonight, but Jack, say it more because you’re dressed up tonight and wearing the sunglasses inside works even better.” Needless to say, recounting the event doesn’t do it justice. The video of the chaotic 2003 Critics’ Choice Awards is a must-watch.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.