13 Apr 2013

US comedian Jonathan Winters dies

10:55 am on 13 April 2013

Comedian Jonathan Winters who starred on dozens of TV shows and movies has died at the age of 87.

His works included It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the 1966 movie The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.

He made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and had his own TV show The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters in the early 1970s.

The US comedian was a major influence on contemporary comedians like Robin Williams and Steve Martin and in 1981 was cast in the television comedy series Mork and Mindy, alongside Williams.

Winters was a comedian who rebelled against telling jokes and entertained in a stream-of-consciousness style that could veer into the surreal, Reuters reports.

His characters included Maudie Frickert, the salty old lady with a razor for a tongue, and Elwood P. Suggins, the drawling overall-clad hick who "was fire chief a while back until they found out who was setting the fires."

Winters joined the US Marine Corps at 17 and fought in the Pacific during World War II. After the war he returned to his native Ohio, attended art school and married Eileen Schauder.

At her urging he entered a talent contest, which led to a show on a Dayton radio station on which he would create characters and interview them using two voices.

Winters moved to New York and with his many impressions, facial expressions and sound effects, quickly made a reputation in the city's stand-up comedy clubs in the 1950s.

His career derailed when the pressure of being on the road led to a mental breakdown in 1959. He spent time in mental hospitals and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Winters won an Emmy in 1991 for his work on the short-lived sitcom Davis Rules and was given the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1999.

Recent work included providing the voice of Papa Smurf in the 2011 live action The Smurfs movie, and a sequel due for release in July.