(LOS ANGELES) -- Jonathan Winters, the comic whose zany, largely improvised characters were a television mainstay in the 1960s and 70s, died Thursday night of natural causes in his Montecito, Calif., home, ABC News confirms. He was 87.
Though he initially studied to be a cartoonist, Jonathan Harshman Winters III worked as a disc jockey in is native Ohio before moving to New York City in 1953, where he honed his comedy chops in nightclubs. His talent quickly drew the attention of TV producers, and it wasn't long before he was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, first under Jack Parr and later, Johnny Carson.
It was his appearances with Carson that spotlighted the improvisation talents that made Winters famous. He often appeared as one of several characters, such as crotchety spinster Maude Frickert, improvising answers to Carson's questions. Winters also had a prolific comedy album career and appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies, including the 1963 all-star comedy classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
In 1982, Winters joined the cast of the sitcom Mork & Mindy for its final season, playing the son of star Robin Williams, who often cited Winters as his idol and inspiration.
Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1999, following Richard Pryor as the prize's second recipient. His most recent film role was providing the voice of Papa Smurf in 2011's The Smurfs, a role he reprised in the upcoming The Smurfs 2.
Winters was married for 60 years to wife Eileen, who died in January 2009.
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