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Jonathan Winters Dies at 87

Jonathan Winters, as a TV critic put it back in the Rat Pack day, was a "most unusual inventive fellow." He was influential, too. And also funny. Very funny.

Winters, the comic who commanded showrooms and variety shows with character-driven quips and absurdities, died Thursday of natural causes at his Montecito, Calif. home, his website reported. He was 87.

[Related: TV Stars We've Lost in 2013]

Winters's screen credits ranged from the comedy classic "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" to a host of animated shows and movies to "Mork & Mindy," the TV sitcom that paired him with one of his chief comedy descendants, Robin Williams. Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Jim Carrey, Tracey Ullman, and Lily Tomlin, among others were all inspired by his brand of humor.

See Winters in "Mork & Mindy" as Mearth:

Most recently, Winters was the voice of Papa Smurf in the live-action, animated big-screen comedy "The Smurfs." He'll also be heard in its sequel, "The Smurfs 2," due out next year.

"Laughter is probably one of the rarest things we have," Winters told PBS in 1999 on the occasion of receiving the Kennedy Center's prestigious Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

[Related: The Cast of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" on the Making of the Movie

Over a seven-decade career in comedy, Winters did his part to contribute.

Born Nov. 11, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio, Winters often said he turned to comedy out of necessity: He was an only child who needed to entertain himself.

Winters, a onetime disc jockey, began his life onstage in New York nightclubs of the 1950s.

In a 2000 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Winters said his early act consisted of impressions of the day's big stars -- until, that is, an audience member got him thinking of going in a different direction.

"Why don't you do the people that you grew up with?" the clubgoer asked Winters, as recounted in the newspaper.

From there, his nimble mind was off and running. His characters such as the gray-haired, but feisty Maude Frickert became staples on comedy albums, on the talk-show sets of Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, and in commercials.

See Winters as Maude Frickert:

Winters also became known as a quick-draw improv artist, onstage and even in ostensibly scripted TV shows and movies.

"You know, you get labels in this business, a wild person," Winters told the Associated Press in 1981. "'Jonathan Winters is a wild person. How do you get a net over him?'"

The truth was, in the 1950s, Winters checked into a psychiatric hospital for what he would later learn was bipolar disorder. At the time, there was no treatment, he told NPR in 2011, aside from electric shock therapy, which Winters didn't want, lest he literally lose his mind -- and comedic edge. For years, Winters suffered from manic depression and alcoholism.

A winner of both the Emmy and the Grammy, Winters found one of its biggest audiences during the fourth and final season of "Mork & Mindy," in which he played the alien-and-human's offspring, Mearth. (On the planet Ork, babies aged backward, Benjamin Button-style.)

"Once upon a time, I called Jonathan my mentor," Williams said at the 2008 TV Land Awards while presenting Winters with the Pioneer Award, "and he immediately corrected me. He said, 'Please, I prefer idol.'"

Continued Williams, "Jonathan Winters is my idol."

With news of Winters passing, the Hollywood community took to Twitter to mourn. Check out what they had to say about the legendary comic and his legacy:

Jonathon Winters was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius. He did God's work. I was lucky 2 know him. =;o{|}

— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) April 12, 2013

Most comedians can point to someone who influenced them. Jonathan Winters was a complete original!!

— Dick Van Dyke (@iammrvandy) April 12, 2013

hail hail a genius has vacated this realm-Jonathan Winters revolutionary comedian-revolutionary mind. RIP

— Roseanne Barr (@TheRealRoseanne) April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters was wildly funny.

— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) April 12, 2013

Goodbye, Jonathon Winters. You were not only one of the greats, but one of the great greats.

— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) April 12, 2013

Johathan Winters was the comedian's comedian's comedian's Cheif Jetster!

— carl reiner (@carlreiner) April 12, 2013

I just lost a best friend, Jonathan Winters. He meant the world to me.A genius and the greatest improvisational comedian of all time.

— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathan Winters. Sad day for comedy fans. We were lucky to have had him at all.

— Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) April 12, 2013

No him, no me.No MOST of us, comedy-wise, come to think of it.#RIP Jonathan Winters

— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 12, 2013

R.I.P Jonathan Winters. Beyond funny, He invented a new category of comedic genius.

— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters basically invented alternative comedy. RIP

— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathan Winters, thanks for paving the way for weirdness. #COMEDYHERO

— Ted Travelstead (@trumpetcake) April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters - doing "alternative comedy" 40 years before they had a name for it.

— Wayne Federman (@Federman) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathan Winters - one the greats.Really. So so funny.

— Jim Gaffigan (@JimGaffigan) April 12, 2013

Goodbye, Jonathan Winters, and thank you. You taught me that being a weirdo could be a vocation.

— Sarah Thyre (@SarahThyre) April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters RIP Happy to have talked to you. #Genius #TrueOriginal

— marc maron (@marcmaron) April 12, 2013


— Chelsea Peretti (@ChelseaVPeretti) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathan Winters. Thank you for your comedy.

— Eric Stonestreet (@ericstonestreet) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathon Winters. The funniest man in the world. Look it up young people.

— Tom Arnold (@TomArnold) April 12, 2013

RIP Jonathan Winters. One of the real greats. Met him a few years ago. I said, "Hello", he did twenty minutes. A great twenty minutes.

— Brent Spiner (@BrentSpiner) April 12, 2013

jonathan winters - true comic genius - i was lucky to work with him on the flintstones movie - a wonderful man - rip

— Rosie O'Donnell (@Rosie) April 12, 2013

RIP 1 of the great funny man legends of all time #jonathanwinters. I will always cherish how u made me laugh on set & off. We will miss u!

— Adam Shankman (@adammshankman) April 12, 2013

PHOTOS: Jonathan Winters 1925-2013