Comedian Jonathan Winters Dies At 87
Funeral services were pending today for comedian Jonathan Winters, a rubber-faced, cartoon-voiced master of improv who inspired a generation of comics, tore apart a gas station in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and traded barbs with Robin Williams on “Mork & Mindy.”
Winters died Thursday night at his home in Montecito. He was 87. Flowers were expected to be placed on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this afternoon.
A former Marine who grew up in Ohio, Winters started his career by winning a talent contest in which the first prize was a wristwatch. That began a successful career as a radio disc jockey that led to New York City, where he thrived as a standup comic.
In 1957, Winters performed in the first color television show, a 15- minute program sponsored by Tums.
By the 1960s, Winters was a star. He was a staple on television and his comedy albums, in which he portrayed dreamed-up characters such as Maude Frickert and Aunt Blabby, were huge sellers.
He appeared in nearly 50 movies, including “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.” In the hit comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” he played a slow-witted but burly truck driver who takes out his rage on a pair of gas station attendants in a memorable fight scene that left the station flattened.
In a statement released Friday, Winters’ friend and L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich called Winters a “role model to a generation of young comedians, he was a man of integrity who successfully fought the Hollywood establishment and proved that real comedy does not require obscenity or vulgarity.”
Winters had his own television show on CBS in the early 1970s. He later played Mork’s son in the hit TV show “Mork & Mindy,” alongside comic Robin Williams, who patterned his frenetic style after Winters.
He was also known for his voice-over work on cartoons such as “Scooby Doo” and “The Smurfs.”
In 1999, Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Longtime radio-TV personality Gary Owens — who was the straight man on four of Winters’ comedy albums — said Winters was one of a kind.
“He was just brilliant,” Owens told KNX Newsradio. “There won’t be another like him. The great part is, you’d never have a normal conversation with him, because he would be a different person.”
Owens said Winters was so unpredictable it was fruitless to rehearse when recording a comedy album.
“We never did a rehearsal, ever,” Owens said. “I had no idea what he was going to say and he didn’t know what kind of questions I was going to ask him.”
Winters’ wife, Eileen, died in 2009. The comedian is survived by two children and five grandchildren.