I have written about creativity and the mind of the creative genius on this blog before. About the habits I have practiced to inch up my own creativity quotient. About finding your ‘wild thing’ by watching Christopher Walken at work. About what we can learn about storytelling and the creative process from John Cleese.
I even did an interview on the Creative Juicer blog, where I was asked interesting questions, including what I do to get unstuck and out of a creative block.
This past week, the world’s inventory of creative geniuses got a little smaller.
The gifted Jonathan Winters died last Friday at the age of 87. He is said to have performed in a comedy club for the first time because they were holding a contest and the first prize was a wristwatch. He had just lost his and didn’t have money to replace it. He won the watch and he was on his way to a lifelong career in comedy.
Jack Paar, Johnny Carson’s predecessor, called him, “pound for pound, the funniest man alive.”
Fellow comic Robin Williams said:
First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend.I’ll miss him huge.He was my Comedy Buddha.Long live the Buddha.
— Robin Williams (@robinwilliams) April 12, 2013
Winters spent a lifetime struggling with manic depression, commonly know as bipolar disorder. As the child of an alcoholic parent, he frequently retreated to his room, where the many characters in his head would join him. And he gave voices to all of them.
Though he was challenged by his illness, he was also blessed with a brilliant talent. He had the ability to take common objects and, with lightning speed, turn them into entirely different things, outshining even the best improv actor.
Long before Drew Carey’s TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, Winters delivered an ingenious performance on The Jack Paar Show in 1964, using one simple prop: a stick:
When Bob and I lived in southern California, one sunny afternoon, we saw Jonathan Winters walking on a sidewalk in Santa Monica. He was oblivious to the people around him, lost in his own world. He wore a fisherman’s hat, loud plaid shorts, and sandals, and carried a camera around his neck. If you didn’t look closely, you might have mistaken him for a tourist.
A big teddy bear of a tourist.
I will always regret not walking up to him to tell him what joy he brought to the world with his characters and sound effects. How making people laugh is one of the most sacred talents in the world. How the world needs more people just like him.
Rest in peace, Mr. Winters.