If you lived in Santa Barbara for the last 30 years there is a good chance that Jonathan Winters was your friend. He knew no strangers, and as he ambled around the upscale pueblo of Montecito it was very likely that he would grant you a JW encounter to cherish forever.
Often suited up in what appeared to be a combination of fighter pilot gear and baseball fan regalia, the famous actor/comedian would tell new acquaintances stories about his private life that would mesmerize the listener, who in Jonathan's mind was a member of what he considered his universal audience. "When I came home from the military my father said 'Oh, you lived,' qith a frown on his face," he claimed. My friend Jamie Klein who visited me one weekend saw Jonathan walk by and told me he was his hero. I called JW over and he sat Jamie down and shared his life story for two hours. Jamie looked over at me as if he just caught Haley's comet barehanded.
He would often tell me how much he hated David Letterman for being vicious. He explained that the famed talk show host would pull the carpet out from under a guest by changing the line of questioning on the show just to put them on edge. Being a comedian and Tonight Show writer myself I didn't mind listening to his celebrity diatribes because he would often orate in one of his offbeat characters. Jonathan was old school comedy. He would make racist, sexist, off color remarks that most people would lose friends over but his legendary status seemed to make him impervious from condemnation. In his later years Jonathan was bitter about show business and recounted a tale where he went in for a reading and was made to sit in the waiting room with the rest of the cattle call without even the offer of a glass of water.
Jonathan's humor could be expressed in so many ways. He was a master painter and just one look at his umbrella series would cause a combination of awe and laughter. We once did a comedy art show together and although money was not the issue he was very serious about attracting a buyer. As serious as he could be there was a playful side that was very fertile. I once saw him talking to a couple outside of the famous Pierre La Fonde eater in Montecito. I walked up and scolded him for not finishing the plumbing job he said would be done by Friday. He sincerely apologized and promised to get back under the tub and have it all ship shape by Monday. The bystanders were astounded that he was actually a plumber. I walked away claiming that if he didn't finish Monday I was pulling him off of the job. He never went out of character and when I ran into those people a week later they had no idea we were both kidding around and still believed he had a side job.
Jonathan, you were one of the greats and a trailblazer in the world of humor bar none. Your fans all over the world are at a great loss, and Montecito will never be the same. If there are pearly gates, the saints are about to experience one of their finest encounters. RIP JW.
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