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April 12, 2013 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Jonathan Winters, the wildly inventive actor and comedian who appeared in such films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "The Loved One" and played Robin Williams' son on the TV show "Mork & Mindy," has died. He was 87.

Jonathan Winters Reflects On A Lifetime Of Laughs (NPR). Previously.
posted by mazola (128 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by jquinby at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by tommasz at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by condour75 at 1:14 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on April 12, 2013


very sad.
posted by sweetkid at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2013


One of the all-time greats.

I will be saying "gar-bahge" for years to come, yet. Godspeed, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


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Robin Williams adored Jonathan Winters and credited him as being a big influence on his own comedic style.

Jonathan Winters & Robin Williams interview with David Letterman (April 24, 1986) -- part 1, 2 (Robin joins in at 07:20).
posted by ericb at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really really liked Jonathan Winters! I remember him as far back as HeeHaw when I was little, he always made me laugh. Im glad he had a good long productive and amazingly talented life. RIP.
posted by SteelDancin at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Winters, the wildly inventive actor and comedian

You forgot groovy crimesolver.

Also, Marc Maron interviewed him on the WTF Podcast a couple of years ago; I don't know if he gave any other interviews after that. It's currently behind the WTF membership paywall, but worth checking out if you're a fan.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Open mic night in heaven is going to be *hilarious* tonight.

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posted by Celsius1414 at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Robin Williams presents TVLand's 'Pioneer' award to Jonathan Winters: "Jonathan Winters is the reason I became a comedian."
posted by ericb at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2013


Archive of American Television: Jonathan Winters discusses Robin Williams and "Mork & Mindy".
posted by ericb at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2013


Is this the one that's staying?
posted by JHarris at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a pity that so few remember him for anything but his role on Mork and Mindy. The guy was a mad genius and that role didn't scratch his surface. I first experienced him on a show called Hot Dog on Saturday morning, which also featured Woody Allen and Jo Anne Worley, doing largely improvised bits over educational material. The guy was miles beyond even those two in inspired nonsequitur weirdness, and I loved him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Winters was also a noted painter. As for his artistic work, he said "There's much more to it than having paints, a large bottle of vodka and a TV set locked on the Days of Our Lives."
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by localroger at 1:27 PM on April 12, 2013


Okay, since this seems to be the standing obituary post, I'm going to dump out the video links I was compiling here:

Jonathan Winters improvises with a pen and pencil set
Jonathan Winters & Robin Williams on David Letterman - Part 2
Clips & plaque presentation in 2011
Jonathan Winters, as Willis Mumford, roasts Johnny Carson
Jonathan Winters, as Miss Maude Frickert, roasts Ronald Reagan
Jonathan Winters roasts Frank Sinatra
Jonathan Winters on the Muppet Show - Part 2 - Part 3
Dean Martin and Winters as Maude Frickert
Winters with Art Carney
Jonathan Winters at 'Bob Hope Celebrates 50 Years at NBC'
Jonathan Winters at Peter Falk signing (awww)
Gas Station scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Winters on the Jack Paar Show
On Jack Paar again
With Jack Paar again
Martin & Winters: The Bear Story (Martin seems inebriated)
Interview on Day at Night
Robin Williams presents an award to Winters
Jonathan Winters as a baseball pitcher
Jonathan Winters as 1984 presidential candidates (first 7 minutes)
Elwood P. Suggin's Automobile
Winters returns a toaster
Jonathan Winters with Bob Hope for the U.S.O. (this is a good one)
Commercial "goofs"
Jonathan Winters on Larry King
Jonathan Winters on That's My Line (saying "no" and "yes" in different voices)

(After building these, it was starting to look more like I was making a Jonathan Winters celebration post than an obituary. But I was happy with that angle; I'd like to have not mentioned his death at all. The word "genius" is thrown around a lot, but he was the genuine article. Farewell, Jonathan Winters.)
posted by JHarris at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2013 [73 favorites]


That guy's dead.

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posted by bondcliff at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


A true comic genius. I adored him, growing up. I've finally reached the age when many iconic figures of my formative years are beginning to move on. Along with the sadness, it's also a reminder to reflect on the wonderous influences that have moved me through the years. Thanks, Jonathan.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2013


Here's one of him improvising with an attic full of stuff from the Dean Martin show
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:31 PM on April 12, 2013


No.
posted by tzikeh at 1:31 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by Smart Dalek at 1:31 PM on April 12, 2013


On Scooby Doo
posted by borkencode at 1:37 PM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


So many great minds with the same FPP...

JHarris just posted almost ALL my video links, except for this 2-part montage / tribute from 2003.

And this tribute from Mark Evanier: "People said he was 'always on.'"

If I weren't laughing at all the examples of his comic genius, I'd be crying.

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posted by oneswellfoop at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rest in peace, sir, although my childhood exposure to your work gave me horrible nightmares.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
posted by unregistered_animagus at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2013


Great great article by Marc Maron just posted about his interview with Winters and how important the man was to alternative comedy
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:39 PM on April 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


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posted by Ink-stained wretch at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2013


Oh, man, such a great comedian.

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posted by annsunny at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2013


Animation historian Jerry Beck on Jonathan's vocal contributions to cartoons... (His last not-yet-released performance will be as Papa Smurf in "Smurfs II", the only voice from the original TV show who reprised in the movies... well, maybe this will discourage them from making a third)
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2013


Also, Marc Maron interviewed him on the WTF Podcast a couple of years ago; I don't know if he gave any other interviews after that. It's currently behind the WTF membership paywall, but worth checking out if you're a fan.

Maron said on Twitter that he'll repost the interview outside of the paywall this weekend.
posted by COBRA! at 1:52 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Don't forget Jonathan Winters, garbage bag spokes.. uh... man.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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Damn.
posted by jonmc at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2013


Wow, from the "reflects" link in the main post:
[...] he had the satisfaction of a happy marriage that lasted from 1948 until his wife's death in 2009.
So, along with everything else that's so widely celebrated, his marriage lasted a little longer than sixty years. Losing her after that long.... I can't even imagine.

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posted by Malor at 1:59 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I followed exactly two celebrities on Facebook. Jonathan Winters and Roger Ebert. Tough week.

Big ups to JHarris for the cavalcade of video links. Definitely takes some of the hurt away.

Don't call me baby!
posted by ShutterBun at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


[...] he had the satisfaction of a happy marriage that lasted from 1948 until his wife's death in 2009.

And he talks about their wedding anniversary on September 11, 2001 in the Archive of American Television interview (above).
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by smidgen at 2:10 PM on April 12, 2013


I LOVED Jonathan Winters as a kid growing up in the 1960's. He was zany without being offensive, a tricky line to tread. RIP funnyman.
posted by Lynsey at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2013


I met him once. In the early 70's I was in this meditation group in the valley. There were a few folks in this group who were in show business, producers and such, and I think I and a few others with long hair and hippie clothes provided some sort of new agey "cred" to this group. Or something.

Anyway, someone came in with him, and he sat in this folding chair for the meditation. I was in my usual cross-legged position on the floor, behind him. So all I really remember about him is the back of his neck and head.

But did shake his hand and have some sort of dipshit conversation with him, after. It was the only time he showed up for this group.

I loved his work, though.
posted by Danf at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2013


Grew up laughing at him. Godspeed, sir!
posted by trip and a half at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2013


My dad used to listen to his albums when I was little (70s) and he was probably my earliest comedy influence (either him or Bob Newhart). I adored his work. This guy was the real shit. I always enjoyed watching people try to interview him because he was just really hard to try to keep up with and impossible to stay ahead of where he was going with his noodle.

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posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:37 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's Chelsea Peretti interviewing an in-character Jonathan Winters from a few years back:
All My Exes, Ep. 4: Lowell
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that he had a special room in his house where he could just go and be crazy - like create dozens of new characters or just scream and let off steam. One of the fastest minds I've ever seen. A brilliant, influential man and one who I will sorely miss - but his was the face that launched a thousand comedians. His influence is going to live on in comedy for centuries.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by brundlefly at 2:49 PM on April 12, 2013


Watching the clips above (thanks JHarris), I'm amazed at how subtle yet expressive his physicality/movement is. It's almost the opposite of someone like Jim Carrey but as effective. The clip roasting Ronnie R as Maude Frickert is pretty great. I remember when he got the gig on Mork & Mindy and I thought "This guy is more weird than Robin Williams"

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posted by Lukenlogs at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2013


Always loved him. I can't imagine what comedy would be like without Jonathan Winters.

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posted by scody at 3:01 PM on April 12, 2013


One of my all-time favorites and one of the major reasons for my love of absurdity.
posted by yerfatma at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed at how subtle yet expressive his physicality/movement is

The eyes and the barely-turned corners of the mouth, man, he could indicate insanity with less movement than anyone.
posted by yerfatma at 3:05 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


he could indicate insanity with less movement than anyone

Well, there's Jack Nicholson but he's not exactly a comedian.
posted by localroger at 3:08 PM on April 12, 2013


Part of the joy of watching him is that he did seem to approach material from a very childlike perspective, like a toddler even. He would look at a thing as someone seeing it for the first time and making the the most amazing, joyfully naive inferences about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:08 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


He was terrific. That's all.


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posted by Spatch at 3:09 PM on April 12, 2013


Also, Marc Maron interviewed him on the WTF Podcast a couple of years ago; I don't know if he gave any other interviews after that. It's currently behind the WTF membership paywall, but worth checking out if you're a fan.

If Maron and/or the folks at WTF have any sense they will move that episode out from behind the paywall as a tribute and an example of how awesome the show can be.


Even if I didn't appreciate Jonathan Winters later in my life, 7 year old me would have to appreciate him for making my dad finally appreciate -- or at least tolerate -- Mork and Mindy.

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posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:10 PM on April 12, 2013


Time to watch The Loved One again. A timeless classic. As was Jonathan Winters.
posted by Splunge at 3:13 PM on April 12, 2013


I remember a Mork & Mindy bit where he did a sort of British "great white hunter" bit with Mork that I remember just loving as a kid.
posted by anazgnos at 3:15 PM on April 12, 2013


Ha, that scene from MMMMW is from back when "guys with glasses" were supposed to be easily beat-up wimps. Yeah, that kinda crap exemplified Winters.
posted by telstar at 3:16 PM on April 12, 2013


He was a great comedian and a great influence on more great comedians. I can't wait to go though the links here.

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posted by blurker at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2013


The man was a god.

A story that I dimly recall said that Winters nearly got kicked out of college for stripping naked, painting himself green, and bicycling around campus yelling "I'M THE SPRING FAIRY! I'M THE SPRING FAIRY!" This may not have happened, but it should have. (A quick search of the interwebs does not provide corroboration. Did I mis-remember? Eh, whatever. It's a glorious image.)

To sum up: the man was a god.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


My most ancient memory of laughing at a real adult comedian is memory of Jonathan Winters who I loved when I was a little kid and I never got over it as long as he lived.
posted by bukvich at 3:29 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The intarwebs seem to have the same two or three quotes for him everywhere you look. Back in the 90s I briefly had a great quote from him on my "Home Page" -- hey, remember those? And now I can't remember what it was. I've grepped the shit out of my archives to no avail. Someone really needs to mine his written works for some better lines, because he did say some lovely things.

I did come across this one, and as a summary of his approach, you could do a lot worse:
When you wear so many hats in society, you never know who you are. That's the beauty of it. Because once you find out who you are, you're screwed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are a handful of his albums on spotify, as well too. (Spotify is a comedy gold mine)

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posted by DigDoug at 3:46 PM on April 12, 2013


He contained multitudes.

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posted by Kinbote at 3:47 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gelatin at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by Jughead at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by luckynerd at 3:57 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by the sobsister at 4:15 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:17 PM on April 12, 2013


Holy God. The world has gotten perceptibly darker.
Not enough . in the world.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:24 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Memo to self: Be more like Jonathan Winters, less like Margaret Thatcher.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


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posted by Sys Rq at 4:32 PM on April 12, 2013


telstar, for the record, in the MMMMW clip, the "guy with classes" he was seeking was Phil Silvers, who had conned him (Phil-Silvers-style) then told the gas station guys to watch out for "an escaped mental patient" with his description. That was the setup. Very '60s. And the two "milquetoast-y" gas station guys were Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan.

Jane Henson, Annette, and Jonathan. That's three. No more for a while PLEASE.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:32 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh no. Terrible news. He was wonderfully funny. And a wonderful person. :(

I met him once in the early 90's, in the green room for CBS This Morning. He was there with a couple of other members of a show he was starring in called "Davis Rules", and had just won an Emmy for the role.

I was a kid, in my first job as a publicist and was going to be there with one of my bosses and a client -- a physician who was being brought on as a medical expert for a segment about protective eyewear. This was also my first time backstage at a national CBS show.

One of the perqs of being a publicist working in New York City is you get to meet celebrities. Many, many people who are in the public eye in one way or another. At events and in green rooms. At parties. Openings. Launches. Backstage at shows, etc. Most folks in my line of work seem to really enjoy it. Some of them are naturally comfortable interacting with celebrities. It has never been my thing. I never really know what to say, and I'm rather introverted. And at the time, I had hardly met anyone who was anyone.

I arrived first, before my boss and client. An assistant led me from the elevators to the green room. I thanked her, turned around and there were Randy Quaid, Jonathan Winters and... another cast member whose name and face are completely escaping me. Along with a fourth person in a suit who turned out to be a network rep. They looked at me. I stood in the doorway and gaped at them like an awestruck idiot. I grew up watching Winters. On The Muppet Show. Carol Burnett! On Mork and Mindy. Quaid was in all the "Vacation" movies. My brain went numb.

After what seems like an eternity, I recovered, took a seat on a couch and tried to look professional. All the while thinking, "HOLY CRAP!!" I casually opened my bag and, hands shaking, took out a newspaper. Something I could stare at blindly for a moment so I could calm myself mentally. While very deliberately NOT looking at the four people on the other couch.

Mr. Winters stood up, walked past me, looked over my shoulder and said in a very serious voice: "Son, you're know that's upside down, right?" And so it was. Oh god. Everyone in the room cracked up. He sat down next to me for a few minutes, and gently struck up a conversation. Asked my name: "Hey, that's nice. Jonathan's a fine name. It's served me well." Where I was from: "I'm terribly sorry." Etc. By the time my boss arrived he was a bit surprised to see all the five of us chatting and laughing our heads off. The man was hysterically funny. It was a fun morning.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity that morning to tell Mr. Winters that I loved his work, had watched him for many years since I was a child, congratulate him on his Emmy etc. And to shake his hand, and get a clap on the back. I'm so grateful to have had that chance.

He was a brilliant comedian with incredible senses of timing and humor.

Thanks for being kind, Jonathan.

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posted by zarq at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


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Man. Jon Winters, the Cold War, and LSD all at the same time. If that doesn't prove the Cosmic Giggle, I don't know what.
posted by Twang at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by halonine at 4:43 PM on April 12, 2013


The greatest ever. The most imposing comedic mind of all time. Comedy made flesh, made amygdala, lobe, and hippocampus. Incomparable, unmatchable, and the father of anything you find funny. The Alexandria Library of comedy. Thank you, Mr. Winters.



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posted by oneironaut at 4:44 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Anitanola at 4:48 PM on April 12, 2013


Mr. Roquette and I were very saddened at the loss of Johnathan Winters. He was a genius, and dangerously funny. :(
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posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:55 PM on April 12, 2013


Jonathan Winters was several geniuses boisterously sharing the same cranium.

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posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:59 PM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Around here he is remembered as the voice of talking beer steins. Take a look.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:01 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone remember that movie about forging artwork and the scene where he puts a painting into a rigged metal conveyor delivery device that swaps the forgery for the real painting in an elaborate Rube Goldberg fashion?

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posted by hal9k at 5:04 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by immlass at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2013


Aw crap. When I was little, I laughed 'til I cried listening to his comedy albums.

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posted by jabo at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2013


Sad, when a very funny man dies, isn't it?

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posted by kozad at 5:41 PM on April 12, 2013


There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that he had a special room in his house where he could just go and be crazy - like create dozens of new characters or just scream and let off steam.

He was hospitalized for 8 months in the early 1960s in what people used to call an "insane asylum".

He actually was crazy. Crazy brilliant.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:44 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


He was everything people have said--hilarious brilliant inventive fast--in spurts. Clips are perfect given how he worked. Hard work, too hard to sustain over longer forms it seems. (Mad mad world is not a funny movie.) Apparently made for a hard emotional life too (I believe he had periods of severe depression but can't cite a source). It probably isn't easy having everyone expect you to be brilliant on demand. He's a mid-century Buster Keaton to me.
posted by cogneuro at 5:48 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by snsranch at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2013


He was a really, really funny guy!

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posted by caddis at 6:03 PM on April 12, 2013


I believe he had periods of severe depression but can't cite a source

Here's a source, which is also a source for my previous "insane asylum" comment.

He struggled with depression. People always say that - "struggled with depression" - the word "struggle" being preferred (according to numbers of Google results) far more than other synonyms ("he jousted with depression" gets some of the fewest results.)

But I think it's a pretty natural consequence for an intelligence like that.

Imagine a mind so full of creative energy that every ordinary thing, every common object, leads to an improvisation of hilarious fun. A mind like that cracks itself up every few minutes, careening into absurdly delightful worlds, intensely joyful moments, bizarre twists of reality, strange points of view, odd insights, curious conundrums. Every few minutes.

And that mind still needs to get through the day and talk to other people and they aren't bouncing around the way you are through an infinitely silly existence. That's got to wear on you after a while. "Hey people, don't you see how ridiculous all of this is????" That's got to be depressing.

Jonathan Winters just reached the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter came out to greet him. Jonathan did 20 minutes on the wings of angels.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:10 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by disclaimer at 6:33 PM on April 12, 2013


I am reasonable certain I have read in the past he had bi-polar. Which in a totally non clinical, just spit-balling, kind of fits the image.
posted by edgeways at 6:35 PM on April 12, 2013


I suppose it's fair to say that "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is not a funny movie.

But everyone in it, and everything they do and say is hilarious.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:35 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I knew he was getting up there, I had seen a picture of him in a wheelchair a few years back, and my heart sank, he didn't look well. I just got home and saw the news, and it hit me like a punch in the gut. For those of you who have never seen "The Loved One", track it down, he plays not one, but two roles, and it might be his best work ever. Also, he's in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, "A Game Of Pool" - no funnies, no yucks, just some excellent acting. I will go watch The Loved One now, and laugh until I cry bittersweet tears. I think of Jonathan Winters with the same affection and respect I had for Brother Theodore. These are my spiritual fathers, my heroes, my people.

Good night, sweet prince. They broke the mold with the likes of you.


posted by dbiedny at 6:38 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aside and minor nit: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" which leads to my favorite trivia about the movie:

[Director Stanley] Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title before deciding that it would be redundant but noted in interviews that he later regretted it. [wikipedia].

posted by mazola at 6:41 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by hooha at 6:43 PM on April 12, 2013


My mother was a student nurse at the psychiatric hospital where Winters was a patient in the early 1960s. She remembers him as a nice man, but not very funny at the time.
posted by briank at 6:54 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Winters was incomparable, but to understand how brilliant he was we should compare him to somebody else. This 60 Minutes segment with Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams from 1986 is as good a comparison as we can make.

Watch the first few minutes, with just Jonathan, to get a feeling for his comedy. Then watch the segment about 4 minutes in, where Jonathan and Robin are improvising together. They're standing there with their hands up, a situation that can go anywhere, and Robin starts going off about mimes. "A mime is a terrible thing to waste" he says.

Robin was doing mime jokes in his standup at the time, and that line was canned.

Jonathan never delivered a canned joke. Not even once.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:03 PM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


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posted by Token Meme at 7:13 PM on April 12, 2013


I suppose it's fair to say that "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is not a funny movie.

But everyone in it, and everything they do and say is hilarious.


It was filled with funny people, most of them famous for funny and doing what they supposedly did best, but it was the odd moments with less familiar faces that stood out, like Jonathan's one-man wrecking crew destroying Arnold Stang's & Marvin Kaplin's gas station, or Dick Shaun's beach bum's interplay with Ethel Merman's disapproving mom (and Ethel got the last laugh in the movie with a pratfall that, if I explained it, would seem totally lame, but WORKED). A weird and uneven movie, and all future attempts to recreate it (sorry, "Cannonball Run") never came close, IMO.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another '60's kid who loved JW.
posted by wallabear at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by vibrotronica at 7:38 PM on April 12, 2013


Robin was doing mime jokes in his standup at the time, and that line was canned.
Jonathan never delivered a canned joke. Not even once.


It's kind of popular right now to rag on Robin Williams, but he's a genius too. When you're improvising, you go where your brain takes you, you can't afford to second guess yourself. It's very in-the-moment comedy.

Every time I've seen Williams and Winters performing together I sense amazing genuine warmth and affection between the two of them. Knowing how much Robin Williams admired Jonathan Winters makes me like Williams a lot better.

Jonathan Winters... I still find it difficult to believe that a guy who looks so much like a potato farmer could be one of the greatest comic geniuses of all. Actually, he played off of that. Such an awesome person. I hope he's with his wife now.
posted by JHarris at 7:53 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, no.
posted by pjern at 8:02 PM on April 12, 2013


Almost 20 years ago, I showed up bleary eyed for an early morning broadcast at KTLA TV in Los Angeles, and had the unexpected pleasure of spending the morning with the wonderfully gentle madness that was Jonathan Winters. It was the most delightful couple of hours I've ever spent in show business; he kept dropping into a Russian accent and referring to me as 'the balalaika player' when I was sitting at the piano.

Rest in peace, sir.

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posted by pianoboy at 8:14 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the links here. They have turned this sadness into something of an Irish Wake for Elwood, Maude and crew. Goodbye Jonathan...

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posted by jim in austin at 8:34 PM on April 12, 2013


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posted by rahnefan at 8:49 PM on April 12, 2013


I don't even have the words.

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posted by MrBadExample at 8:55 PM on April 12, 2013


I've mentioned before that I was right up in front at one of Robin Williams' first 'comeback' performances after John Belushi died. It was clear to me that his is a hybrid skill of improvisation and an encyclopedic memory of existing jokes, and at that time, after a self-imposed layoff, it was easier to see when he changed gears... one reason he was doing those small-club practice performances. Of course, if you've seen him do an entire show more than once, you'd know he repeated chunks of material that won over crowds before. But to my knowledge, Jonathan Winters was never caught doing that, even when going into one of his most frequenty-used characters - Maude Frickert had no 'catch phrases' even though it could've made his performing life easier.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:58 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's kind of popular right now to rag on Robin Williams, but he's a genius too.

Absolutely. I didn't mean to rag on Robin Williams. That guy has made me laugh till my sides hurt.

It's just a difference in improvisational comedy. There are whole schools of improvisational comedy, you know. There's even a whole subsection of a Wikipedia article devoted to it.

Some types of improvisation rely on more or less standard comedic formulas, well-known punch lines, basic ways to make a joke. For example, during Robin Williams' first HBO special, during the part where he is improvising with the audience, he climbs off the stage and up into the balcony. That alone is funny, because he has broken the fourth wall. But then he gets up close to a woman and says "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" That's totally a canned joke - other people made that joke before and he didn't make it up on the spot.

It's a different kind of brilliance to do that, to improvise up to a point where you can fall back on a standard.

I don't think Jonathan Winters ever did that. I don't think he was capable of doing that. Aside from the obviously scripted lines he had to deliver in a movie or a TV show, I think he made everything up on the spot, every time, and avoided repeating anything, ever.

Which is quite unusual.

Also, I'm pretty sure that he faked his death and is now at that the secret tropical resort they have for comedians who fake their deaths, having piña coladas with Andy Kauffman, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Greg Giraldo, Mitch Hedberg, and, inexplicably, a guy named Tony.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:24 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


twoleftfeet, George Carlin is there too, but he's having scotch on the rocks, just to be different.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:37 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Oh, man! Jonathan Winters brought me SO many laughs. What a genius talent, and what a sweet guy! "Greatness", when applied to Winters, is a gross understatement.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:44 PM on April 12, 2013


What is the appropriate way to honor the fallen heroes of comedy? A 21-pun salute?

Rodney Dangerfield's tombstone says THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD. John Belushi's says "He could have given us a few more laughs, but nooooo." Spike Milligan: "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite", which apparently is Gaelic for "I told you I was ill."

Leslie Nielsen used his tombstone to make a fart joke.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this line of thought, but certainly Mr. Winters should have an appropriate tombstone. Any ideas?
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:56 PM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


What is the appropriate way to honor the fallen heroes of comedy? A 21-pun salute?

Shine the Andy Zaltzman signal!

I'm not sure where I'm going with this line of thought, but certainly Mr. Winters should have an appropriate tombstone. Any ideas?

The man best capable of coming up with a good line is no longer with us.
posted by JHarris at 10:17 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


ROIGL

Rolling Over In Grave Laughing
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:22 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:23 PM on April 12, 2013


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I watched It's a Mad Mad Mad World when it first came out. It had me laughing so hard I nearly peed my pants.
The Jonathan Winters' parts had me in tears.
posted by dougzilla at 10:36 PM on April 12, 2013


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Thanks for the video links—they are so much fun to watch. It was always a delight to see him perform, whether on TV or in movies. I wished I had been old enough to see him when he was still doing live comedy (I think he was doing that in the ’60s and ’70s but not after that, right?).

In one of those cosmic coincidences, the folks behind Rewind, the archives show on CBC Radio One, scheduled a show just this past Wednesday, April 10th, featuring clips from an hour with Jonathan Winters, from 1969. Alas, no audio is at the website, but I heard part of the show while driving in the car. Not only did they have excerpts from interviews, but also clips from his comedy albums. Pure comedy gold; pure comedy genius. It makes me want to start searching for old LPs of his!

I remember thinking, as I was listening to the show, “I wonder how he’s doing.” And then, in an “is-Abe-Vigoda-dead-or-not” moment, “Is he still with us?” How could I have known that two days later I would be reading his obituary?

Rest in peace, Maude—I mean, Jonathan. :-)
posted by kentk at 11:23 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Abe Vigoda is alive
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:36 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Okay that settles it - I'm putting on It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World tonight.
posted by arzakh at 11:49 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by djrock3k at 11:58 PM on April 12, 2013


Thanks for the confirmation, twoleftfeet. We all need to be reminded every now and then. But when Abe is no longer around, what (or who) will our meme be?
posted by kentk at 12:19 AM on April 13, 2013


You made me laugh til I'd snort, Mr. Winters, even though it was hardly ladylike. Bless your bones for all you gave to us.
posted by aryma at 12:26 AM on April 13, 2013


. . .

Are we ABSOLUTELY sure he's dead?

Because, you know, that would be a good prank...
posted by Samizdata at 12:28 AM on April 13, 2013


But when Abe is no longer around, what (or who) will our meme be?

These memes never die. On a related note, here's a picture of Elvis leaving a building, but I'm not sure he ever really left.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:42 AM on April 13, 2013


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posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:43 AM on April 13, 2013


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posted by marimeko at 5:21 AM on April 13, 2013


I don't know if anyone else remembers it or can find it, but there was a short clip of Robin and Jonathan on an interview show (robin dropped in ) and they did some schtick without words
that left everyone just crying with laughter. What a wonderful comedian. What a wonderful man.
posted by eggtooth at 3:28 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Winters & the Martians - Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu
posted by wallstreet1929 at 11:15 PM on April 13, 2013


Mark Evanier does a good job explaining Jonathan Winters' unique talent... and why it wasn't very saleable.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:55 AM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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