TODAY   |  April 13, 2013

Comedian Jonathan Winters remembered as ‘a true genius’

Winters came from Ohio, and got his start in the entertainment business after his wife entered him in a talent contest so he could win a new watch. Soon it was off to New York and Hollywood and work alongside the comedic legends of the day. Winters passed away Friday at 87. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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>>> hollywood is remembering comedian jonathan winters who passed on friday. he was best known for his frequent appearances on "the tonight show with johnny carson ." we look back at winter's life and unique humor.

>> reporter: you couldn't quite put your finger on it but something about jonathan winters made you laugh. often times even before he opened his mouth. he made the giants of the day from carson to martin, even the chairman of the board cry with laughter too. winter's came from dayton, ohio, and got his start when his wife entered him in a talent contest so he could win a new watch.

>> my friend, jonathan winters .

>> reporter: soon it was off to new york and standup and "the tonight show " and to hollywood and the whackiest of all road movies , "it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world ."

>> every time he was a different character, he had a different face.

>> reporter: he had a genius for characters.

>> give me a little -- isn't that sweet.

>> reporter: winters also worked with muppets.

>> i can't go on tonight.

>> reporter: and "mork and mindy." he suffered a mental breakdown and spent months in a mental institution . he was honored in tweets. jonathan winters was the king. a true genius. dick van dyke said the first time i saw jonathan winters perform i thought i might as well quit the business because i could never be as brilliant. he spoke to tom brokaw in 1971 .

>> i hope i live to be an old man.

>> reporter: jonathan winters was 87. for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news.