Comedian Jonathan Winters dies at 87
Inventive actor preceded other 'stream of consciousness' comics
The cliché term "comic genius" is used too frequently, but was highly appropriate for Jonathan Winters. His "stream of consciousness" style - where he would flit from one character to the next, without scripting, inspired many other comics, in particular Robin Williams. The younger comic would pay homage to Winters by casting him as his "son" on his "Mork and Mindy" TV series. Winters has died at the age of 87.
Highly admired by his peers, Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize, which goes to outstanding humorists in 1999.
Winters' appearances on TV shows made him a beloved figure in the entertainment world. He was a favorite guest on the 1960s "The Tonight Show" with host Jack Paar. He frequently was a guest star on "The Hollywood Squares," Dean Martin's celebrity roasts and countless variety shows.
One of his most popular characters was "Maude Frickert," a sarcastic old lady. "I decided, having seen a lot of older people, that many of them are shelved -- put in retirement homes to rot," he said. "I decided to (be) a hip old lady" -- one who had a wicked sense of humor, the kind of person who was married 12 times and cracked a whip in a ward of cardiac patients.
On "Mork and Mindy," Winters played Mearth, Mork's son, who -- having hatched from a giant egg -- was the size of an adult but had the mind of a child..
Winters was also a prolific recording artist, producing more than a dozen comedy records, including 1960's "The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters."
He honed his talent for characters and voices from a young age. After serving in World War II, he married his wife, Eileen, in 1948. Winning a local talent show, he became a disc jockey on a local radio station, making up some of his interviewees. Eventually he left for New York, becoming a nightclub comic and earning spots on "The Tonight Show."
His climb to the top was disrupted when he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1961. He spent eight months in a mental institution and was diagnosed as bipolar. Once released, he would star in his most memorable film role, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" as a truck driver who inadvertently destroys a gas station.
The comedic world is flush with tributes to this most singular talent. "The first time I saw Jonathan Winters perform, I thought I might as well quit the business," tweeted Dick Van Dyke after hearing of Winters' death. "Because, I could never be as brilliant."
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