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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:

PHOTOS: Jonathan Winters 1925-2013