Jonathan Winters was widely believed to be one of the greatest comedy legends of all time, a brilliant master genius of impromptu characters and character comedy as he would slip into a comedy zone and the comedy would just flow from him. Robin Williams’ comedy style seemed to be much influenced by Jonathan Winters, where the two even appeared together on MORK & MINDY together for several years. Jonathan Winters’ style was very unpredictable as he would totally slip into outrageous characters, and seemed to channel a whole new wacky persona from that character. He was a favorite of so many other top celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke and so many other legends.
Jonathan Winters was so poor as a young husband that he couldn’t afford to replace a lost wristwatch. His wife entered him in a talent contest to win a watch. He was so good he won first place and the watch in the contest. He was soon invited to become a radio disc jockey, but instead of introducing songs as he was supposed to, he often used the show to create crazy ad libs and comedy, with endless new jokes, funny voices and characters. By 1957 he got a TV break on CBS and by 1960 was recording comedy albums for Verve Records.
Jonathan Winters later went on to star in a memorable TWILIGHT ZONE episode and later did hilarious guest walkons on Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW as bizarre and outrageous characters including his well known Maude Frickert. As late as this year, the 87 year old did the voice work as Grandpa Smurf for the SMURF franchise of movies. Winters left behind a huge legacy of record albums, TV and film work.
Despite all of his laughter that he created for others, Winters had his own personal demons and was hospitalized twice for manic depression as well suffering from bipolar disease. Winter was a wonderful family man, married to his wife Eileen for over 60 years until she died of breast cancer in 2009.
Winters was also a former U.S. Marine, serving over two years in the Pacific fighting against the Japanese. He was truly part of “our greatest generation”, both for his duty to our country in the service as well his generous service to USO shows to entertain our soldiers. Like Bob Hope and other legends, Jonathan Winters was one of the greatest comedy legends of our lifetimes. One of the greatest stage performers ever. He will be deeply missed. There will never be another legend like him.