I never intended this blog to have so many tributes for departed celebrities. Unfortunately, we've lost three in the last few days.
Jonathan Winters - where do I begin? He was a one-of-a-kind. He literally pioneered comic improvisation doing stand-up routines, making them up sometimes as he went along. He passed away yesterday at the age of 87, which means you younger folks probably never heard of him.
Robin Williams and Jim Carrey both admit he was their inspiration for the type of comedy they do.
In fact, Jonathan Winters played Mork and Mindy's son in the last season of that series. The stories about Jonathan and Robin doing improvisation on set were legendary.
If you've never seen "Mork & Mindy", perhaps you've seen the film "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." If you like comedy and you haven't, you should catch it when it's on Turner Classic Movies. It's hysterical and has a huge cast of important comedians of the day. Winters stood out among the illustrious cast, playing the driver of a moving truck, slow to think and quick to anger. He was a hoot.
Then there was another hilarious big cast movie, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." Winters played a goofy deputy of a little coastal town in New England, trying to be John Wayne but coming off more like Barney Fife. If you have to ask who John Wayne or Barney Fife are, you're too young to find this post relevant. Winters was wonderful, playing against the likes of Alan Arkin and Carl Reiner (Rob's dad and the creator of the "Dick Van Dyke Show" among others.)
Winters appeared on numerous television shows over the years. With his stints on late night talk shows, he could be counted upon to break up the hosts with his routines. He was a performer who rarely stopped, with a lightning delivery and a supersonic thought process.
I've read stories about his youth. He was an only child of divorced parents. His mother worked to support him, so he spent quite a bit of time alone. The neighbors would often hear him over the fence in his backyard conversing with some strange people. There was nobody there with him. He was perfecting his comedy even at that young age. It just came naturally to him.
My dad met him once at a hotel somewhere in the midwest. Dad was on a business trip. Mr. Winters was performing in the area. Dad told the story of being entertained by Winters for a couple of hours as they sat and talked. Some of his characters came out and talked to Dad, especially Maudie Frickert, Winters' testy, boozing, little old lady.
Winters also wrote stories and painted. He was a man of considerable talent. He had a gift of keen observation and the ability to portray what he had seen, whether onstage, on canvas, or on paper. It takes a gifted artist to be able to work in such diverse media. Winters was such an artist.
As he aged, he disappeared from public life, like so many. But he left us the legacy of his film roles, his recorded comedy routines, the videos of "Mork & Mindy," and the videos on YouTube.
He'll certainly make you laugh. Sometimes you may catch a glimpse of pathos or pain, something clowns aren't always successful at hiding. Often funny people are created by loneliness or sadness in their own lives. They create comedy to cope. And thank goodness they do. What would the rest of us do without the healing abilities of a good laugh?
Let your spirit soar, Jonathan...and try not to terrorize the angels too much.
Until next time, find something to make you laugh...