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.
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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.
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.