The incontestably great Jonathan Winters has left the earth. He was much more than a comedian, and much more, I always felt, than Maude Frickert — the character that Middle America seemed to like the most. Winters was first and foremost (and I don’t think this is a word) a transportationist. He would leave his body and go into trance-states that seemed to flirt with real madness. “This guy isn’t just playing characters — he’s one-third nuts,” I told myself long ago. “He knows what it is to throw normality out the window.”
One reason for this (apart from Winters having been blessed with pure genius) is that he crashed and did two stretches in a mental hospital in ’59 and again in ’61 for manic depression. I’ve never fallen into that pit myself, but I know that guys who’ve been there and have come back are always fifteen times more interesting than mild-mannered folk. Ask any comedian who knows a thing or two. Ask Albert Brooks or Robin Williams or anyone, really, who knows what a bitch it is to be funny in a way that resonates on some level. Winters was world-class.