Jonathan Winters, he of the malleable face and rapid fire ad lib wit, died Thursday, April 11, in Montecito, California.
Winters, a veteran of World War II (Marine Corps), first developed his unique comedic style as a teenager, talking to himself. Later, as a morning DJ for WING (Dayton, OH), Winters had trouble rounding up guests so he just invented his own, and became an instant hit. Winters honed a wide, and wild, range of characters. Among his more memorable creations was Maude Frickert, a sweet-natured, sharp-tongued granny with a healthy libido. Johnny Carson, who invited Winters back over and over again as a guest on the Tonight Show, ended up stealing Maude and morphing her into his Aunt Blabby.
Robin Williams, whose explosively funny style is often compared to Winters' spontaneously combustive hilarity, credits Winters with inspiring his own funny riffs -- "Jonathan taught me that the world is open for play, that everything and everybody is mockable, in a wonderful way." (interview with the late Ed Bradley on CBS's 60 Minutes). In fact, in Season 4 of Mork and Mindy (Williams plays an alien from outer space with a human roommate, Pam Dawber, whom he later marries ), Winters plays their son, Mearth.
Winters also gave particularly memorable performances in two of the movies in which he had roles -- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He also found time to pen Winters' Tales, Stories, and Observations for the Unusual in 1987.
Winters, who was quite candid about his struggles with, and hospitalization for manic depression, died of natural causes at age 87.