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OTRC: Jonathan Winters dies: Comedian and actor was 87 (Photo)

Jonathan Winters, an improvisational comedy pioneer and actor who inspired comedians like Robin Williams, died at age 87, the Associated Press reported on Friday, April 12.

Longtime family friend Joe Petro III told the wire service that the Ohio native died of natural causes on Thursday evening at his home in Montecito, California.

Winters was a master of improv and some of his best known characters included Maude Frickert, a saucy old lady who Winters had based on a woman he knew in Ohio.

The comedian appeared in several films like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "The Loved One" and "Viva Max!"

Winters was also a television pioneer and his "The Jonathan Winters Show" developed the then-new videotape technology on to do stunts like showing up as two characters on screen together, according to the AP.

He was a regular panelist on "The Hollywood Squares" and he regularly appeared on "The Dean Martin Show," "Mork & Mindy," "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "Hee Haw."

In 1981, he began appearing as the son of Williams' goofball alien in the final season of ABC's "Mork & Mindy" named Mearth. He went on to become the voice of Papa Smurf on "The Smurfs" animated television series and reprised the role for the 2011 live-action "Smurfs" film.

"Johnny and I started out together and were both discovered by Garry Moore, when he would introduce new young talent. Later he was a guest on my show. Johnny was a genius and a brilliant artist and two of his paintings are hanging in my home," Carol Burnett said about Winters in a statement to OTRC.com on Friday.

Winters would go on to inspire the likes of Williams and Jim Carrey, as well as Billy Crystal, Tracey Ullman and Lily Tomlin, according to the AP. He won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the sitcom "Davis Rules" in 1991. He also won two Grammys, one for his "The Little Prince" album in 1975 and another for "Crank Calls" in 1996. In 1999, Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Winters' wife of over 60 years, Eileen Schauder Winters, died in January 2009 following a long battle with breast cancer.

Jonathan Winters "was my Comedy Buddha"

Comedy legend Robin Williams, who rose to fame as the star of "Mork & Mindy," was influenced by Winters' comedy. He once told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: "Winters' sheer madness is like mercury. He can flow in and out of different characters, six or seven different characters at once."

"First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend," Williams said on Twitter on Friday. "I'll miss him huge. He was my Comedy Buddha. Long live the Buddha."

Jonathan Winters "was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius," Jim Carrey Tweeted. "He did God's work. I was lucky 2 know him. =;o{|}."

Rick Moranis of "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" and "Strange Brew" fame also cited Winters as one of his key influences. The two starred together on the show "Gravedale High" in 1990 and in the 1994 big-screen adaptation of "The Flintstones," in which Winters had a small part.

"I loved it when he let loose in his prop attic, because you could watch how his mind worked," Moranis told the New York-based newspaper Newsday in 1990. "It was similar to the way I was working, coming up with crazy ideas, trying to make my friends, my parents, laugh."

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