Jonathan Winters died yesterday at the age of 87.
I honestly think he was the first funny man I ever liked.
He was an Ohio boy, from Dayton.
His comedy was clean, and he was always on.
He was born in Dayton to an investment banker and a radio personality. His father was the son of Valentine Winters, the founder of Winters National Bank, a Dayton staple all my life that is now a part of JPMorgan Chase. His parents separated when he was about seven, and he moved with his mom to Springfield, right UP the road from Dayton.
He married Ellen Schuader, whom he met while attending the Dayton Art Institute. They were married for 60 years until her death in 2009.
His career was rather odd. He left Dayton with less than sixty bucks, went to NYC, got an agent, called himself Johnny Winters, and started doing voice overs and comedy.
He was the voice of talking beer steins called Schultz and Dooley, he played a gentleman garbage man for Hefty Trash Bags, and collected ‘gar-bajh’ rather than plain old garbage.
His role as the caustically sweet old lady, Maude Frickert was my favorite, and one that Carson loved. Johnny Carson loved the character so much he stole it and renamed it Aunt Blabby.
He was Mork and Mindy’s reverse age son, Merth, on the show of the same name back in the 80s. He did the Benjamin Buttons thing first, starting old and growing young.
Ah, that we could.
He played dramatic roles, and was a serious artist, hosting several art exhibitions. He was the voice of Grandpa Smuf, he was in Pound Puppies, he was in 48 movies, and hundreds of TV shows.
He was everywhere without being ubiquitous.
His comic genius was born of his manic depression. He was open about the fact that he had two stints in a mental hospital – he even used it in a routine or two – he finally got help after years of misdiagnoses.
His comfortable, simple style may be gone, but his humor will last forever.
These are all facts, things you can find on the internet. What Jonathan Winters means to me is much different than the data.
I remember watching him with my dad, and my dad laughing at every line. I think Winters’ humor, simply because I paid attention to it so closely, has influenced my own the most. I wanted to be him when I was a kid. I wanted to make my dad laugh.
I like to think I did.