Jonathan Winters in a still from 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'

Comedian Jonathan Winters, Cherokee, Walks On

ICTMN Staff
4/13/13

Jonathan Winters, a towering figure in the history of improvisational comedy, died on Thursday at his home in Montecito, California, at the age of 87.

Winters was born in Dayton, Ohio, and began his broadcasting career in local radio and TV. He moved to New York City in 1953 and began appearing in bit parts on television while honing his standup act in nightclubs. By the late 1950s, Winters was one of the prominent comics in a generation that included Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart. And yet Winters was unlike any of them -- and arguably, unlike anyone since. He was known for creating madcap characters, often on the fly, that were relatable while being totally absurd. 

“I don’t do jokes,” he once said, as quoted in his New York Times obituary. “The characters are my jokes.”

Winters had Native ancestry, although he was the first to admit that, as a 1/16th Cherokee he was not as Indian as others -- a People Magazine profile from 1976 cites the quip, "If I had a nosebleed, I'd be out of the tribe." Nonetheless he was a passionate supporter of Native causes, and served as honorary chair of the National Congress of American Indians. In 1969, Winters was among the celebrities -- others included Jane Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Dick Gregory -- who visited occupied Alcatraz Island to show support for the Indian action.

Winters was a favorite guest of television show hosts, including Jack Paar, Dean Martin and Johnny Carson. His career as an actor included some 50 films, memorably It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He did a memorable stint as the baby child of Robin Williams' Mork on the final season of Mork & Mindy, and he won an Emmy for his portrayal of Randy Quad's father on the sitcom Davis Rules in 1991. He received 11 Grammy nominations for his comedy albums, winning once, for Crank(y) Calls, in 1996.

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H.R. Hudson's picture
H.R. Hudson
Submitted by H.R. Hudson on
Jonathan Winters was proof that you don't have to curse to be funny. RIP.

james winters's picture
james winters
Submitted by james winters on
Remembered with love. On my facebook page I reflected how I never was sure if my mother was wrong, that we maybe weren't related to him. I sort of claimed him in heart.

laurel ferguson's picture
laurel ferguson
Submitted by laurel ferguson on
Jonathan Winters, I have the utmost respect for your lifelong drive to entertain, your humour, and your tenacity. Well done on a long life, kudos as you continue your journey. May the Great Spirit receive you with open arms.

Ruth A Kevghas's picture
Ruth A Kevghas
Submitted by Ruth A Kevghas on
He was also a wonderful artist, I have some of his books- he incorporated his Native heritage into many of his pieces.

Christopher Charles Carvin's picture
Christopher Cha...
Submitted by Christopher Cha... on
I have so many fond memories of my childhood and my fathers good friend and neighbor in Rye N.Y..... Dad and I went together to the Winters' garage to get my sisters first bicycle from his daughter who'd outgrown it. We were together at the first showing of both Mad Mad Mad Mad World as well as Te Russians are Coming.... I remember each and every skit and character pictured in the above memorial and mainly I remember the joy these two exhuded when together, for all around to enjoy a contagious smile. We, the Carvin family, proudly display photographs of Jonathan and Dad, together on the walls of our homes. For tree decades and even still today I've bragged tat Jonathan Winters, comedian extraordinaire, was my Godfadda.... You will be missed, sir.... truly missed. Give Dad a big handshake and a warm hug for me, and assure him I'm on my way.

Christopher Charles Carvin's picture
Christopher Cha...
Submitted by Christopher Cha... on
I have so many fond memories of my childhood and my fathers good friend and neighbor in Rye N.Y..... Dad and I went together to the Winters' garage to get my sisters first bicycle from his daughter who'd outgrown it. We were together at the first showing of both Mad Mad Mad Mad World as well as Te Russians are Coming.... I remember each and every skit and character pictured in the above memorial and mainly I remember the joy these two exhuded when together, for all around to enjoy a contagious smile. We, the Carvin family, proudly display photographs of Jonathan and Dad, together on the walls of our homes. For tree decades and even still today I've bragged tat Jonathan Winters, comedian extraordinaire, was my Godfadda.... You will be missed, sir.... truly missed. Give Dad a big handshake and a warm hug for me, and assure him I'm on my way.

Debra Rincon Lopez's picture
Debra Rincon Lopez
Submitted by Debra Rincon Lopez on
OMG Jonathan Winters DIED THURSDAY, I met him when I was little girl on tv. He was a great COMMENDIAN LONG AGO, HE WILL BE MISSED From DEBRA RINCON LOPEZ. May GOD welcome him into Heaven above. Amen RIP MR WINTER'S.

Lou-ann Ika'wega Neel's picture
Lou-ann Ika'weg...
Submitted by Lou-ann Ika'weg... on
I absolutely LOVED Jonathan Winters' brand of comedy! Watched him every chance I got and always gut-laughed all the way through. Thank you, Jonathan, for blessing us with the gift of laughter!
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