Friday, April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters, RIP

Cartoon voices were only a teeny, tiny part of his huge talent.

Jonathan Winters, the cherub-faced comedian whose breakneck improvisations and misfit characters inspired the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, has died. He was 87.

The Ohio native died Thursday evening at his Montecito, Calif., home of natural causes, said Joe Petro III, a longtime friend. He was surrounded by family and friends.

Winters was a pioneer of improvisational standup comedy, with an exceptional gift for mimicry, a grab bag of eccentric personalities and a bottomless reservoir of creative energy. Facial contortions, sound effects, tall tales — all could be used in a matter of seconds to get a laugh.

"Jonathan Winters was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius. He did God's work. I was lucky 2 know him," Carrey tweeted on Friday. ...

Winters was the reason I watched Jack Paar's Friday night prime-time show when I was a kid. Winters would be sitting there, conjuring up characters and worlds that were gut-bustingly funny. He was an originator, and an original.

He used to come to Disney to record. Walking down Animation Building halls, he would stop and do fifteen minutes of funny voices and bits for secretaries, assistant animators, and whoever else he encountered under the gold rotunda.

If he was a little late for the voice session, well ... he had entertained thirty people in the meantime. So what the hell.

Various comedians have followed in Mr. Winter's large footsteps, but he was among the first to do stream-of-consciousness improv comedy. A giant has boogied on.


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