The legendary comedian Jonathan Winters has died at age 87 in Montecito, California. He passed away overnight surrounded by family and friends.
Jonathan Winters basically invented alternative comedy. RIP
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) April 12, 2013
Here’s what you need to know about the legend…
1. He was a Native of Ohio
Winters was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. After serving in the Pacific campaign for the Marines during World War II, he returned home to attend the Kenyon College and Dayton Art Institute, he studied cartooning.
2. He Quickly Became a Local Celebrity
He got his start doing short comedy routines on college radio in Kenyon, WKCO, and later into small market stations in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio.
3. He was an Early Tonight Show Favorite
His comedy album, released under the Verve label, made him a favorite of both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, he appeared on some of the earliest episodes of The Tonight Show.
He was one of the comedians chosen to roast Johnny Carson on Dean Martin’s show in 1983.
4. He was Known for his Array of Characters
His most famous character being Maude Frickert, a seemingly sweet old lady with a sharp tongue. Many of his character, like Frickert, were based on people that Winters new growing up in depression area Ohio.
5. He Broke into Movies in the 1960s
He famously appeared in the movies The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World as his career began to real take off in the late 1960s.
6. In the 1970s he Conquered TV
He also made many TV appearances with Dean Martin, Mork & Mindy and in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
In Mork & Mindy , Winters played Mork’s (Robin Williams) son, in the show, Mork’s race, the Orkans, their children were born, or hatched, old. Winters made his debut in this episode:
7. In 1999, he won the Prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
During the 1990s, he won a Grammy award for his album Crank Calls in 1995.
8. Most recently he voiced Papa Smurf in the Smurfs Movies
9. His Wife of 60 years, Eileen, Died of Breast Cancer in 2009
Winters’ credited his wife as being the biggest influence of his career. Encouraging him to go to New York to work on The Tonight Show and also insisting he take the role in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
10. He Was One of the Most Influential Comedians of All Time
His work in improvisational comedy is seen as a huge influence on comedians like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. His skill as an improvisational comedian demonstrated in one famous segment on The Tonight Show, NPR reports:
…Jack Paar hands Winters a stick about 3 feet long and tells him to make comedy. Winters looks at if for just an instant, then whips it out in front of him, making a casting reel sound — he was always gifted at sound effects. In a comfortable vacationer’s voice, he says, “Well, that was a pretty good cast, wasn’t it Bob? I think we’re on to something.”
Then, a look of alarm out into the distance. “I’m sorry, Margaret, try to swim in.”
The studio audience roars, which must have given Winters a clue for the next stick bit — a lion tamer’s whip complete, again, with sound effects. Then the stick becomes a teacher’s pointer, a spear, a golf club and a dozen more props.
The quicksilver improvisations, countless characters and mercurial changes of mood and expression led people to dub Winters a “wacky genius.”
Remembering Jonathan Winters tmz.me/110NVcN R.I.P.
— TMZ (@TMZ) April 12, 2013