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Jonathan Winters - Comedian, Actor, Artist

Manic artist - manic depressive


Updated June 18, 2006

According to Joy Ikelman's "Famous People Files," a wonderful resource now sadly taken offline, Winters talked about his manic-depressive illness on The Tonight Show in 1994. Other internet sources speak of one or more breakdowns with few details. However, that there has always been a certain "manic" element to the characteristic Winters' humor and performance style cannot be denied.

Jonathan Winters was born in Dayton, Ohio. His parents divorced when he was young; one biographer says his father was an alcoholic. At 17, during WWII Jonathan enlisted in the Marines and served in the South Pacific. After his discharge he studied cartooning at Dayton Art Institute, where he met Eileen Schauder, whom he married in 1948.

At Eileen's urging, Jonathan entered a talent contest in Dayton. Winning this contest led him to a disc jockey's job on radio, and on to work on a local television station. In 1953 Jonathan took the big step of going to New York, where he was noticed by Garry Moore while working in a night club. Once he had been introduced on national television, his talent did the rest.

Three of Winters' best-known roles are that of Robin Williams' son Mearth on Mork and Mindy, Lennie Pike in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and the character he created himself, Maudie Frickert, the sweet old lady with the barbed tongue.

A mental breakdown, reportedly around 1960, caused him to withdraw from the night club circuit to spend more time with his family. He also concentrated more time on painting and writing, having one-man shows of his art and publishing, in 1987, Winters' Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual (out of print). Other writings have followed, and he is said to be working on his autobiography.

Jonathan Winters was Robin Williams' idol - a legacy to be grateful for.

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