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Comedy Legend Jonathan Winters Passes Away

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PopWrapped

Updated 04/14/2013 6:39am
Comedy Legend Jonathan Winters Passes Away

Clare Sidoti


Staff Writer

Great improvisational comic Jonathan Winters has died aged 87. An inspiration to Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and many others, he is best known to our generation as the voice of Grandpa Smurf in the television series (1986-1989) and as Papa Smurf in the 2011 film, The Smurfs and its upcoming sequel. Longtime family friend, Joe Petro III, announced that Winters had died on Thursday evening at his Montecito, California home of natural causes.

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1925, Winters quit school in his senior year and joined the United States Marine Corps, serving two and a half years in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He studied cartooning at the Dayton Art Institute, but his career as an improvisational comedian took off in the late 40s when he won a talent contest in which the first prize was a wristwatch, recounts the Beverly Hills Courier. This win lead to a successful career as a radio disc jockey before moving to New York City in 1953 where he tried his hand as a stand up comic in various New York nightclubs.

His earliest television appearance was on Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James in 1954. He also performed in the first colour television show in 1957, a 15-minute routine sponsored by Tums. Known for his eccentric personalities and rubber-faced expressions, Winters created such memorable characters such as the dirty old lady Maude Frickert and the dapper Hefty bag garbageman. In the mid-50s, he hosted his own variety show, The Jonathan Winters Show, on NBC. 

He had a number of standout film roles in the 1960s, especially in the comedy classics, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. Throughout the 60s and 70s, he was a regular on variety shows The Tonight Show, The Andy Williams Show as well as hosting his own, The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters. In 1981 he starred as Robin Williams’ son, Mearth, in the final season of Mork and Mindy. 

In a career spanning more than 50 years, he received 11 Grammy Award nominations for Best Comedy Album and won the 1996 Grammy for Best Spoken Comedy Album for Crank(y) Calls. He also won an Emmy in 1991 for his work on the sitcom Davis Rules and in 1999 was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Many of today’s biggest comedians were quick to pay tribute to their idol and inspiration, taking to Twitter and social media as news of his death spread.

Bob Newhart - “Jonathan Winters was the king—a true genius. He was number one. There is no number two. #jonathanwinters” 

Jim Carrey - “Jonathan Winters was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius. He did God’s work. I was lucky 2 know him. =;o{|}”

Jimmy Kimmel - “I feel very lucky to have had the chance to know the great Jonathan Winters, who was funny from beginning to end.”

Steve Carell - “Jonathan Winters was wildly funny.”

Steve Martin - “Goodbye, Jonathon Winters. You were not only one of the greats, but one of the great greats.”

Pee-wee Herman - “Comedy loses a KING! Jonathan Winters was an influence on so many and there was nobody like him. Loved you, Jonathan!”

Carl Reiner – “[Jonathan] Winters was the comedian’s comedian’s comedian’s [Chief Jester]!”

Winters last film, Smurfs 2, is due for release later this year. Speaking to TMZ, producer Jordan Kerner has stated that he is pushing the studio to dedicate the film to Winters’ memory.

Rest in Peace, Jonathan Winters. Thanks for the laughs and the memories.

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