Jonathan Winters' talent for mimicry, sound effects and improvisation, combined with an antic, fertile imagination and an uncanny ability to conjure up more characters than Central Casting, made him a comic original.
Jack Paar, who helped propel Winters into the national consciousness with appearances on "The Tonight Show" in the late 1950s, once introduced the freewheeling comedian by saying, "Well, if you ask me who are the 25 most funny people I know, I would say, 'here they are: Jonathan Winters.' "
With his rubbery, moon-shaped face and pitch-perfect ear for speech patterns, Winters could slip into such diverse characters as a redneck ballplayer, a lisping child and a prissy schoolmarm.
Winters punctuated his comedy vignettes with realistically accurate sound effects — a rotary phone being dialed, falling raindrops or a rushing subway. As he explained, "I try to paint verbal pictures."
His most famous recurring character in a colorful stable that included redneck Elwood P. Suggins and big kid Chester Honneyhugger, was gray-haired Maude Frickert, the swinging granny.
Winters, who performed Maude in drag, described her as a cross between Whistler's and Norman Bates' mothers.
He hosted his own comedy-variety TV shows in the '50s, '60s and '70s. He also starred in numerous specials.
In the 1981-82 TV season, Winters surfaced — or more accurately hatched out of a giant egg — on the sitcom "Mork & Mindy," starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber.
As Mearth, Mork and Mindy's middle-aged "infant" offspring, Winters inspired Williams to even greater improvisational heights.