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Jonathan Winters

Comedian / Actor

Born: 11 November 1925
Died: 11 April 2013
Birthplace: Dayton, Ohio
Best known as:

Improvisational comedian of the 1960s and '70s

Jonathan Winters was a comedian whose unique brand of rapid-fire sound effects and improvised character sketches made him a television star in the 1960s and '70s. An Ohio boy who joined the Marines before finishing high school, Winters got his professional start as a disc jockey. After deciding he couldn't make a career out of being an artist, he moved to New York in 1953 to break into show business. He got work as a stand-up comic and became a frequent guest on television, in the early days of TV talk shows, from Steve Allen and Jack Paar to Johnny Carson. His brand of comedy was hard to define -- he didn't tell jokes, he riffed off of characters from movies and real life, making it up as he went along. That made Winters a great talk show guest, but he had a hard time translating his talent to TV and films. His biggest television exposure as a comedian came with short-lived series on network television (1956-57 and 1967-69), followed by a syndicated show from 1972-74. In his syndicated show, Winters solicited sketch ideas from the audience and proceeded to do his thing on stage, with wonderful results. On the big screen, he's mostly remembered for his role in the 1963 comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Winters was often described as more influential than personally successful; Robin Williams made no secret that the manic comedy of Winters was inspirational to his career (Winters co-starred with Williams in the final seasons of the TV sitcom Mork and Mindy). In his later years, Winters was recognized for a series of Hefty garbage bag commercials, and was honored by his peers in 1999 with the Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

Extra credit:

Jonathan Winters had a nervous breakdown in 1961 and spent several months in an institution. He openly talked about suffering from depression and being diagnosed as bipolar.

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More on Jonathan Winters from Infoplease:

  • Jonathan Winters - Biography of Jonathan Winters, Improvisational comedian of the 1960s and '70s
  • Certifiably Jonathan - Starring Jonathan Winters, Howie Mandel, Nora Dunn, Sarah Silverman, Tim Conway
  • Garry Moore - Biography of Garry Moore, Host of TV's Garry Moore Show
  • People Who Died in 2012 - Selected biographies of well-known Actors
  • Swing - Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Jonathan Winters, Innis Casey, Jim Hanks, Nell Carter

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