April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters, Comedy Icon Known for Array of Unforgettable Characters

Adored by fans and an inspiration to his fellow comedians, Winters was as much an innovator as he was an entertainer.

Jonathan Winters, a comedy legend whose gift for mimicry and a knack for creating unforgettable characters brought him decades of acclaim, died April 11, 2013, in Montecito, California. He was 87.

According to news reports, Winters died of natural causes.

Although he appeared in several popular feature films, including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, Winters is perhaps best remembered as a fixture on television from the 1950s through the 21st century, often inhabiting such daffy characters as Maude Frickert, Elwood P. Suggins, King Kwasi, B. B. Bindlestiff, Piggy Bladder, Lance Loveguard and Princess Leilani-nani.

From side-splitting appearances on game shows and talk shows, to episodic guest roles, to starring in his own series, The Jonathan Winters Show and The Wacky World of Jonathan WInters, he left an indelible mark on the medium.

In 1991 he won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
for Davis Rules, and was nominated in 2003 for Life with Bonnie.

His other television credits included many guest spots on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and other talk shows, as well as roles in The Twilight Zone, The Bob Hope Show, Hee Haw, Mork and Mindy and Fish Police.

He also worked extensively as a voice-over performer, earning credits on dozens of animated programs, among them Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, The Smurfs, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley and Garfield and Friends. In addition, he recorded several comedy albums, for which he received 10 Grammy nominations and won once.

WInters was born November 11, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio. His father, a banker, lost his money in the 1929 market crash and became an alcoholic. After his parents parents divorced, his mother remarried and became a radio personality.

During World War II, Winters dropped out of high school to join the Marines. After his discharge he completed high school and went on to Kenyon College, and later to the Dayton Art Institute.

After winning a talent contest in Dayton he found work as a morning disc jockey at a local radio station. He later moved on to a station in Columbus, and in 1953 he moved to New York pursue network radio. Instead he found small roles on television, which led to stand-up comedy opportunities.

He drew attention on the TV show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, which led to talk show appearances with Jack Paar and Steve Allen, and a spot on the arts program Omnibus — the first comedian given such an opportunity.

Years of further television work, as well as movie roles, followed.

In 2000, Winters received the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain honor for humor.

More about his life and work is available at:

Archive of American Television

Hollywood Reporter

New York Times

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