Jonathan Winters, who ascended to fame in the late 1950s as one of the great stand-up comedians, died Thursday at his home in Montecito, Calif., at age 87.
Winters was well-known for his frequent appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Steve Allen Show,” as well as in movies, such as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” He also served as inspiration to other comics like Robin Williams because of the characters he created, his ability to ad-lib and his sometimes surreal jokes. One of his best-known characters was the sarcastic and sometimes grandmother he played in drag, Maude Frickert.
Several comedians paid tribute to Winters on Friday after the news broke:
I just lost a best friend, Jonathan Winters. He meant the world to me.A genius and the greatest improvisational comedian of all time.
— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) April 12, 2013
Jonathan Winters was wildly funny.
— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) April 12, 2013
He was a magic, unencumbered stream of explosive comedic firepower full of unexpected twists and turns of imagination.RIP Jonathan Winters
— RUTH BUZZI (@Ruth_A_Buzzi) April 12, 2013
In 1999, he sat down with Jim Lehrer and discussed his career, how he first started loving comedy as a child, his time in the Marines and why he loved improvising. Watch the video above, and you can read the transcript here.