Comedian Jonathan Winters, one of the most popular entertainers of his generation, has died. He was 87.
“John passed away last evening at 6:45 p.m. surrounded by family and friends in Montecito, Calif., of natural causes,” family friend and collaborator Joe Petro III told ABC News Radio.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Winters was a Marine in World War II and then studied art before beginning a career in radio. It was in that medium that he discovered his gift for comedy.
“Johnny and I started out together,” Carol Burnett tells ABC News in a statement. “[He] was a genius and a brilliant artist and two of his paintings are hanging in my home.”
Soon, he transitioned to television, and in 1956, launched his own TV variety show, “The Jonathan Winters Show.” He was also a regular on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” and famously starred in the final season of “Mork & Mindy” along with Robin Williams.
Winters made his mark on the big screen with iconic roles in ”It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Loved One” and “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.” Most recently, he voiced Papa Smurf in the live action “Smurfs” movie.
The comedian, who was married to his wife of 60 years, Eileen, until her death in 2009, said that his early success was due to his unpredictable behavior on TV.
“I don’t think [talk show hosts] sweated my being dirty… or embarrassing,” he once said. “They knew I would be funny.”