The Hollywood Reporter -- Jonathan Winters, whose range of comic characters and talent for mimicry vaulted him to comedic stardom, died Thursday of natural causes, a family friend told the Associated Press. Winters recorded a series of comedy albums, which garnered 10 Grammy nominations, and he won the award once. Regarded as the father of modern improvisational, character-oriented comedy, he earned an Emmy Award in 1991 for his supporting role in Davis Rules, playing a grandfather raising three sons. Winters received the Kennedy Center's second Mark Twain honor for humor in 2000. The first recipient of the prizes was Richard Pryor. His wide range of characters was, perhaps, highlighted by his portrayal of Maudie Frickert, a plump old woman with round glasses and a perverse sense of propriety. She was a precursor to Dana Carvey's Church Lady character on Saturday Night Live. Winters also greatly influenced Robin Williams, who considered him his mentor; Winters jocularly insisted that Williams refer to him as his "idol." Winters had his own comedy show, The Jonathan Winters Show, which ran on NBC in 1956. During the '50s, he was a frequent and popular guest on such variety series as The Gary Moore Show and The Steve Allen Show. He was, perhaps, best known as a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show during the 1970s and &lsquo80s. Often, he left Carson bent up with laughter at his desk with his inspired riffs. Indeed, with the Mighty Carson Art Players, Carson too emulated Winter's style, most blatantly with "Aunt Maudie." He appeared in a number of movies, often in cameo bits as eccentrics. He gave a gloriously hilarious turn as Mr. Joyboy in The Loved One, starring along with an eclectic comic cast that included Liberace and Robert Morse. He reached his widest movie audience with his wacky performance as the van driver in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Other comic turns included his work as the deputy sheriff of a Communist-crazed New England town in Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!
His other movies included: Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, The Shadow and, more recently, The Flintstones. Winters was a talented voice-over artist as well. He was best known as Papa Smurf on The Smurfs animated TV show as well as Santa Claus in the movie, Santa vs. The Snowman. He recently revived his role on The Smurfs as the voice of Papa Smurf in the film version. Jonathan Harshman Winters III was born in a banking family on Nov. 11, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio. His father lost his money in the crash of 1929 and became an alcoholic. Such maladies were to foreshadow Winters' own bouts with depression. His parents divorced and his mother remarried and embarked on a radio career.
Winters dropped out of high school of join the Marines, but following his tour in 1946, he completed his high school degree and entered Kenyon College, later transferring to the Dayton Art Institute. While at the Institute, he developed a flair for drawing and became an accomplished cartoonist and a connoisseur of human behavior and foibles. During the time he worked a number of odd jobs -- apricot picking in California, chopping wood in Utah, cooking in Yellowstone. He credited these years of hard knocks with allowing him to observe a wide range of human oddities. These inspirations were the starting points to his comic characters, which he came to refer to as "my little world." His appearance on the &lsquo80s hit sitcom Mork & Mindy let to a longtime friendship with Williams. More recently, he voiced three characters in The Rockie & Bullwinkle Movie (2000). A man of energetic talents, Winters was also a talented painter, painting in the style of Kandinsky or Paul Klee. His bizarre sense of humor contributed to him amassing an eclectic collection of knickknacks.
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