Nightly News | April 12, 2013
>>> in the business of comedy the professionals loved him. but what mattered most was audiences loved jonathan winters . we learned today the comedy legend died last night at the age of 87. robin williams said today on his twitterer account, first he was my idol, then my mentor, and then my amazing friend. jonathan winters was a world war ii vet, the king of made-up characters when you think about it. along with soaring creativity came crushing bouts of mental illness . he leaves us with a pile of memories. nbc's kevin tibbles has our look back on the life of jonathan winters .
>> 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. winters 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 stand-up and "the tonight show ," and to hollywood and the wackiest of all road movies "it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world ."
>> now, fellows, you keep this up and i'm going to get sore. i mean it.
>> reporter: gary owens worked alongside winters in "laugh in."
>> every time he was a different character he had a different face.
>> reporter: he had a genius for characters from maude to chester honeyhugger. winters worked with muppets.
>> i just can't go on tonight.
>> reporter: and " mork & mindy ." he did suffer through dark periods, suffering a nervous breakdown and months in a mental institution . today this master of the improv was honored in tweets. bob newhart wrote 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 just hope i live to be an old man. i really do.
>> reporter: jonathan winters was 87. kevin tibbles, nbc news, chicago.