It's been a bit of a rough week and a half on the obituaries front.
First we had film critic Roger Ebert leave us, then almost in rapid succession, Margaret Thatcher and Annette Funicello.
Now, Jonathan Winters is gone.
Winters was the cherubic-faced comedian who made everyone laugh in the 1960s through the mid-1990s or so. Did you ever meet anybody who didn't laugh when Winters was around?
I laughed, and laughed and laughed some more at this guy. I have many of his comedy records, and I laughed at his antics on TV too.
He, along with Ernie Kovacs, was the first comic who was tailor-made for television. His act was a very visual one, and often didn't transfer over to recordings. You had to see him to laugh at him.
Although his film appearances were few and far between, I laughed most when he played a kind of dim-witted character in my favorite movie of all time, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
In the movie, the main characters--seemingly most of Hollywood at the time--stop to help a car that has gone off the road, only to find a con, played by Jimmy Durante, lying there, and with his dying breath, give those who stopped for him some clues about where a large amount of cash is hidden.
The rest of the movie concerns this group--among them, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar and Ethel Merman--and what they have to do to try to get to the money.
Winters stole the show in this film, but not the money, of course, which went to cop turned crook Spencer Tracy.
In what I consider the funniest five minutes of movie magic that I have ever seen, Winters destroys a gas station, top to bottom, with his bare hands.
If you have seen the movie and know the scene, you know how funny it is.
If not, see below. You don't have to see the rest of the movie to see how funny it is.
Anyway, Winters was the king of improvisation, and his characters--in particular Maude Frickert--influenced many comics who followed him, including Jim Carrey and Robin Williams.
And Johnny Carson's Aunt Blabby character was certainly a close relation to Frickert.
Winters was just flat out funny. He had a dark side--early in the 1960s, he checked himself into a mental institution for a time, and he was a manic depressive--but to his audience, he was hilarious, taking a mere idea and turning it into comedy skits that were both funny and witty.
Winters was 87, so he lived a long life. But with a guy like this, you just get the feeling that he left us way too early.
R.I.P. Jonathan. We already miss you.