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Jonathan Winters

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Also Known As: Jonathan Harshman Winters Iii Died: April 11, 2013
Born: November 11, 1925 Cause of Death: Natural causes
Birth Place: Bellbrook, Ohio, USA Profession: actor, comedian, author, disc jockey, painter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the most unique and unbridled comic talents of the late 20th century, Jonathan Winters was less of a performer and more of a force of nature whose mind zipped from characters and scenarios with astonishing speed and creativity. A major influence on stream-of-consciousness comics like Robin Williams, George Carlin and Patton Oswalt, Winters presented a singularly off-kilter view of the world through appearances on stage, in motion pictures, and in numerous television appearances. The entertainment industry could rarely find a worthy project for him, but he soldiered on into his eighth decade, still possessing one of the most formidable improvisational talents in the world upon his death in 2013.Born Jonathan Harsham Winters III on Nov. 11, 1925, he was raised in Bellbrook, OH by his namesake father, an investment banker, and his mother, Alice Kilgore, a former radio personality. Winters' childhood was a difficult one due to his father's alcoholism, which eventually contributed to his parents' divorce. His mother took him to Springfield, OH, where he lived with his maternal grandmother. At 17, he left high school to join the U.S. Marines, and served two and a half years in the Pacific Theater...

One of the most unique and unbridled comic talents of the late 20th century, Jonathan Winters was less of a performer and more of a force of nature whose mind zipped from characters and scenarios with astonishing speed and creativity. A major influence on stream-of-consciousness comics like Robin Williams, George Carlin and Patton Oswalt, Winters presented a singularly off-kilter view of the world through appearances on stage, in motion pictures, and in numerous television appearances. The entertainment industry could rarely find a worthy project for him, but he soldiered on into his eighth decade, still possessing one of the most formidable improvisational talents in the world upon his death in 2013.

Born Jonathan Harsham Winters III on Nov. 11, 1925, he was raised in Bellbrook, OH by his namesake father, an investment banker, and his mother, Alice Kilgore, a former radio personality. Winters' childhood was a difficult one due to his father's alcoholism, which eventually contributed to his parents' divorce. His mother took him to Springfield, OH, where he lived with his maternal grandmother. At 17, he left high school to join the U.S. Marines, and served two and a half years in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After his discharge, Winters attended Kenyon College, where he began to explore comedy and acting. He then studied cartooning at Dayton Art Institute, where he met Eileen Schauder. The couple was married in 1948 and would remain together until her death in 2009.

His entertainment career reportedly began with a talent contest that featured a wristwatch as its first prize. Winters had recently lost his own watch, and Schauer encouraged him to try out for the contest. Once there, Winters unleashed his dizzying improvisational skills, and not only won the competition, but earned an on-air job at a radio station in Dayton. Initially, his job was to introduce songs and give weather reports, but Winters' knack for ad-libbing and creating odd and hilarious characters on the spot eventually became the focus of the show. More radio jobs soon followed, as well as a brief stint at Columbus' WBNS-TV. After failing to land a $5 raise from his bosses at the station, Winters quit the job and decided to make a stab at becoming a full-time comic. With less than $60 in his pocket, and a promise to his wife that he would return if he had not found success within a year, Winters headed to New York City. There, he began to make a name for himself on the city's fabled club scene. After landing Martin Goodman as his representation, Winters earned his big break with an appearance on the cultural series "Omnibus" (CBS/NBC, 1952-1961).

Winters soon became a staple of television variety shows, where he introduced several of his enduring personas. The best loved of these was Maude Frickett, a garrulous senior citizen with a wicked tongue, who was popular enough to earn her own imitation in Johnny Carson's "Aunt Blabby." Both Carson and his "Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ) predecessor, Jack Paar, were devoted fans of Winters, and frequently gave the comic ample room to unleash whatever thoughts or characters were running through his mind at the time. Winters also earned a fan base through his comedy albums on the Verve label, beginning in 1960 with The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters. However, Winters' off-stage world was anything but wonderful during this period. In the late 1950s, Winters suffered a nervous breakdown and spent eight months in a private mental hospital. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and would occasionally make reference to his mental state in his humor. Winters also struggled with alcoholism throughout his career, and suffered numerous setbacks as a result of his instability.

Winters' first attempt at regular series work came in 1956 with "The Jonathan Winters Show" (NCB, 1956-1957), a 15-minute sketch comedy series that ran after the network's nightly news broadcast. Winters later became a regular on "The Garry Moore Show" (CBS, 1958-1967) before earning another shot at a weekly series with the primetime "Jonathan Winters Show" (CBS, 1967-69). There, he joined another improvisational genius, Cliff Arquette, who brought his long-running country sage, Charley Weaver, to the proceedings, which also included such established comics as Paul Lynde and Alice Ghostley. He was also a favored guest on "The Dean Martin Comedy Hour" (NBC, 1966-1971) as well as his televised celebrity roasts.

In the 1960s, Winters attempted to parlay his comic talents into acting roles in film and on television, with mixed results. He made an impressive dramatic debut as a deceased pool champ who takes on Jack Klugman's aspiring hustler in "A Game of Pool," a 1961 episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), but kept largely to comedy throughout the remainder of his career. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for his feature debut in the sprawling all-star epic "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) as an easily angered trucker who, in one memorable scene, destroyed an entire gas station in an attempt to get at Phil Silvers. Winters also enjoyed a dual role in Tony Richardson's cult black comedy "The Loved One" (1965) as a scheming reverend and his more honorable brother. Unfortunately, while Winters' appearance in films like "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" (1966) and "Viva Max" (1969) were often the high points of the production, few of the films were actual box office successes, and he eventually returned to television as the co-host of the children's documentary series "Hot Dog" (NBC, 1970-71), which also featured the improbable duo of Woody Allen and Joanne Worley.

Winters' output in the 1970s was as mercurial as the man himself: he recorded Ogden Nash's poem "The Carnival of the Animals" on LP, then hosted a syndicated comedy series, "The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters" (1972-74). He was a frequent guest on "The American Sportsman" (ABC, 1965-1986) as well as "The Hollywood Squares" (NBC/syndicated, 1966-2004). And in the fourth and final season of "Mork and Mindy" (ABC, 1978-1982), Winters joined one of his most ardent admirers, series star Robin Williams, to play Mork's child, Mearth, who began life as an elderly man hatched from an enormous egg. Despite the comedy firepower on display in these episodes, the addition of Winters failed to interest viewers, and the show was cancelled after its 95th episode.

The 1980s and 1990s saw an upswing in Winters' television appearances, including several TV specials like "Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge" (Showtime, 1987), which teamed him with established comics like Milton Berle as well as up-and-comers like Michael Richards, whose own persona owed a large debt to Winters. He also contributed his versatile voice to countless animated series, including that of Papa Smurf on "The Smurfs" (NBC, 1981-89). In 1991, he earned his sole Emmy award as Randy Quaid's eccentric father on the short-lived "Davis Rules" (ABC/CBS, 1991-92). Winters' long and influential career also received numerous tributes during this period, most notably the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1999 and the TV Land Pioneer Award in 2008, which was presented to him by Williams. In 2011, Winters was the subject of a curious "mockumentary" called "Certifiably Jonathan," which focused on his lengthy life and career while indulging in an odd storyline about the comic's attempts to get his paintings into the Museum of Modern Art. The film received mixed reviews, but critics and audiences agreed that in its best moments, it showed that the 85-year-old Winters had lost none of his offbeat brilliance. That same year, he was announced as the voice of Papa Smurf in the live-action feature film version of "The Smurfs" (2011). After reprising the role for the 2013 sequel, Winters passed away at his Montecito, CA home at the age of 87.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Smurfs 2, The (2013)
2.
 Smurfs, The (2011)
3.
4.
 Swing (2004) Bill
5.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Cast
6.
 Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The (2000) Jeb; Ohio Cop With Bullhorn; Whoppa Chopper Pilot
7.
 Daisy-Head Mayzie (1995) Voice
8.
 Arabian Knight (1995) Voice Of Thief
9.
 Shadow, The (1994) Wainwright Barth
10.
 Flintstones, The (1994) Grizzled Man
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Joined the US Marine Corps and served two and a half years in the Pacific Theater during World War II
:
Encouraged by his wife, entered local talent contest which he won
1946:
Hired by a Dayton radio station as a disc jockey
:
Moved to Columbus and worked for three years at WBNS-TV
1953:
Moved to NYC; began performing as a standup comedian in nightclubs like The Blue Angel
1954:
Reportedly was the first comic to be featured on CBS' "Omninbus"
1955:
Was a regular on NBC's "And Here's the Show"
1956:
Hosted "The Jonathan Winters Show" (NBC)
1957:
Introduced the characters, senior citizen Maudie Frickert and Elwood P. Sluggins, on shows such as "The Steve Allen Show," "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" and "The Garry Moore Show"
1960:
Feature debut, provided voice for the animated film, "Saiyu-ki"
1963:
Made feature acting debut in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
1964:
Headlined the NBC variety program "The Jonathan Winters Special"
1964:
Was a regular on the NBC variety series "The Andy Williams Show"
1965:
Played the dual roles of Henry Glenworthy and his dark, scheming brother, the Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy in the film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One"
1965:
Starred in an unscripted variety hour, "The Jonathan Winters Show" (NBC)
1966:
Appeared as a guest in several specials starring comedian Bob Hope
1966:
Had three-minute cameo in "Penelope," a comedy starring Natalie Wood
1966:
Offered comic support as a deputy in "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming"
1967:
Cast as Dad in the film version of the play, "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad"
1967:
Starred in the CBS variety series, "The Jonathan Winters Show"
1970:
Last film for nine years, "Viva Max!"
1970:
Wrote and hosted "The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters" (NBC)
1970:
Returned to "The Andy Williams Show" as a regular for one season
1972:
Starred in the syndicated series, "The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters"
1976:
Hosted and wrote NBC's "Jonathan Winters Presents 200 Years of American Humor"
1979:
Resumed film career with "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh"
:
Was commercial spokesperson for Hefty garbage bags in a series of memorable TV commercials
1980:
Played one of the villains in the CBS miniseries, "More Wild Wild West"
1981:
Joined cast of the ABC sitcom "Mork and Mindy" in its final season playing Mork's son
1983:
Was a regular on "Hee Haw" (CBS) for one season
1985:
Cast as Humpty Dumpty in the CBS miniseries adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland"
1987:
Starred in first Showtime comedy special, "Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge"
1989:
Headlined "Showtime Presents: Jonathan Winters & Friends"
1991:
Featured as Randy Quaid's eccentric father in the sitcom, "Davis Rules" (ABC, 1991; CBS 1991-1992)
1992:
Provided character voice for the ABC primetime animated series, "Fish Police"
1993:
Starred in "Jonathan Winters: Spaced Out" on Showtime
1995:
Narrated the animated special, "Frosty Returns" (CBS)
1997:
Voiced Santa in the ABC animated special, "Santa vs the Snowman"
2000:
Was the subject of Comedy Central's "Uncomfortably Close With Michael McKean: Jonathan Winters"
2000:
Played multiple roles in the combination live action-animated, "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"
2003:
Received an Emmy nomination for his guest-starring role in an episode of ABC's "Life with Bonnie"
2009:
Earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word for the album, <i>Jonathan Winters - A Very Special Time</i>
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Kenyon College: Gambier , Ohio - 1946
Dayton Art Institute: Dayton , Ohio - 1950

Notes

His Web site is located at www.jonathanwinters.com,

Winters is also an accomplished painter.

In addition to Maude Frickert, Winters' characters include Dr. Bellenhoffer, a shrink of questionable qualifications, Chester Honeyhugger, King Kwasi and Larry Lech.

Winters earned a Grammy nomination for each of his 10 comedy albums, finally winning the prize in 1996.

"Jonathan's the source for me, the guy that made it all possible. He's the Smithsonian, all these riffs he stores up. Just sit back and watch him. He's a force of energy. Comedy would be more closed off without him." --Robin Williams quoted in TV Guide, January 8, 2000.

"Aside from one's faith, to me, sense of humor will get you through." --Jonathan Winters quoted in TV Guide, January 8, 2000.

In speaking of his breakdowns, Winters told The Washington Post (October 17, 1999): "This is something I've never quite shaken. There are bigger stars than me with all kinds of coke problems, sauce problems, guys that are married four, five times. Then they put them in picture after picture.

"Why should I have to go through my life auditioning and proving I'm sane?"

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Eileen Winters. Born c. 1925; married in 1948.

Family close complete family listing

grandfather:
Jonathan H Winters Sr. Banker. Owned Winters National Bank & Trust.
father:
Jonathan H Winters Jr. Banker. Alcoholic; divorced from Winters' mother in 1932.
mother:
Alice Kilgore Winters. Radio personality. Divorced from Winters' father in 1932; remarried.
son:
Jonathan H Winters IV. Contractor. Born c. 1950.
daughter:
Lucinda Kelley Winters. Movie location scout. Born c. 1956.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Winters Tales"
"Hang-Ups"

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