Behind Robin Williams' genius was the great comic Jonathan WintersBy Michael Martinez, CNNUpdated 6:00 PM ET, Wed August 13, 2014Just WatchedRemembering Robin Williams: Part I replayMore Videos ...Remembering Robin Williams: Part I 06:41Story highlightsRobin Williams became a comedian because of Jonathan WintersAs a boy, Williams saw how his stern father laughed at Winters on televisionWilliams called Winters his "Comedy Buddha"Both comics enjoyed great careers -- and dark moments in their personal livesBefore Robin Williams, there was Jonathan Winters.Winters begat Williams, if only in comedic spirit.To understand the genius of Williams, an audience must look to Winters. They were kindred clowns, and even as you read their names now, you wonder what jokes each comic would have conjured up seeing their surnames side by side, W with W.Winters was the original master of funny characters created out of the thin air of a stage, Williams once pronounced. Winters could invent them with nothing more than a stick as a prop.Winters became a deity to Williams. In fact, he was the "Comedy Buddha," as the protégé put it.Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosPhotos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Robin Williams was honored during this year's Emmy telecast with a tribute led by friend Billy Crystal, who hosted the "Comic Relief" benefits with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg (seen here in 1986). Williams died August 11 at age 63. Click through to see moments from the beloved actor's remarkable life.Hide Caption 1 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams' peers regarded him as a brilliant actor and comedian. His friend David Letterman remembered him as "nothing we had ever seen before."Hide Caption 2 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams first shot to stardom with Pam Dawber in the sitcom "Mork & Mindy" in September 1978.Hide Caption 3 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams attends the Robin Williams Opening Party on April 11, 1979, at Studio 54 in New York City. Hide Caption 4 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – This 1982 file photo originally released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Williams as T.S. Garp from the film "The World According to Garp."Hide Caption 5 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams and his first wife, Valerie Velardi, join a huge number of photographers packed into singer Paul Simon's apartment to celebrate Simon's wedding to actress Carrie Fisher in New York City on August 16, 1983.Hide Caption 6 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams, center, takes time out from rehearsal at NBC's "Saturday Night Live" with cast members Eddie Murphy, left, and Joe Piscopo on February 10, 1984. Williams would appear as guest host on the show.Hide Caption 7 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams enjoys music through a headset in a scene from the film "Good Morning, Vietnam" in 1987.Hide Caption 8 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams portrayed a teacher in the movie "Dead Poets Society" in 1989, one of his first mostly dramatic roles. Hide Caption 9 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams went to all lengths to stay with his children in the 1993 movie "Mrs. Doubtfire."Hide Caption 10 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – From left, Bonnie Hunt, Bradley Pierce, Kirsten Dunst and Williams hold one another in a scene from the 1995 film "Jumanji." Hide Caption 11 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Comedians and co-hosts, from left, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Williams sing and dance the 1940s-era opening number to "Comic Relief VII" on November 11, 1995, in Los Angeles. Hide Caption 12 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Jay Leno laughs as Williams jokes around during a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on November 13, 1995, at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.Hide Caption 13 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams and Nathan Lane starred in the film "The Birdcage" in 1996.Hide Caption 14 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams visits a sick child in a scene from the film "Patch Adams" in 1998.Hide Caption 15 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams and his wife, Marsha, pose for photographers with their daughter, Zelda, as they arrive at the premiere of the film "Patch Adams" in December 1998 in New York City. Hide Caption 16 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams wears a clown nose as he places his hands in concrete during a ceremony outside Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1998. In the critically acclaimed "Patch Adams," he played a doctor who used humor to help heal his patientsHide Caption 17 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Actor-writers Matt Damon, left, and Ben Affleck, right, pose with Williams, holding the Oscars they won for "Good Will Hunting" at the 70th annual Academy Awards in 1998. Damon and Affleck won for best original screenplay, and Williams won for best supporting actor.Hide Caption 18 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams donates blood at the Irwin Memorial Blood Center in San Francisco on September 11, 2001. Hide Caption 19 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – U.S. Postal Service team rider Lance Armstrong rides with Williams during training on a rest day of the 89th Tour de France cycling race in Vaison La Romaine on July 22, 2002.Hide Caption 20 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams plays Rainbow Randolph in the 2002 black comedy "Death to Smoochy."Hide Caption 21 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams and Oscar host Billy Crystal perform at the 76th Academy Awards show in 2004. Hide Caption 22 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams poses for pictures with U.S. soldiers at the main U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, on December 16, 2004.Hide Caption 23 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams in 2007's "License to Wed."Hide Caption 24 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams and Susan Schneider arrive at the premiere of "World's Greatest Dad" in Los Angeles on August 13, 2009.Hide Caption 25 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams at the pre-premiere party for "Happy Feet Two" at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London on November 20, 2011.Hide Caption 26 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams poses for photographs in Sydney, Australia, on December 5, 2011. He and Australian director George Miller were in Australia to promote "Happy Feet Two."Hide Caption 27 of 28Photos: Robin Williams' career 28 photosComedic actor Robin Williams dies – Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, said, "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken." Hide Caption 28 of 28EXPAND GALLERY"Jonathan Winters is the reason I became a comedian," Williams declared.Indeed, Winters' influence began in Williams' childhood, when he saw how his father belly-laughed at Winters on television.Robin Williams and the next generation of comicsA rush of insight overwhelmed the boy named Robin: The way to his stern father's heart was through imitating Winters.That's how Robin Williams the prodigy was born.Just WatchedComedians who left us too soonreplayMore Videos ...Comedians who left us too soon 01:38PLAY VIDEO"My dad was a sweet man, but not an easy laugh," Williams wrote in The New York Times in an homage to Winters shortly after his death in 2013 at age 87. "My father's laughter introduced me to the comedy of Jonathan Winters."The father and son were watching Jack Paar on "The Tonight Show" when Winters appeared as a guest, wearing a pith helmet, Williams recounted in the Times."Who are you?" Paar asked."I'm a great white hunter," Winters said in an effete voice. "I hunt mainly squirrels.""How do you do that?""I aim for their little nuts."Jonathan Winters in the audience at the TV Land Awards.Williams repeated this tale often. The moment put him on the path to become one of America's funniest and most prolific artists, until this week when he apparently ended his life at age 63.The epiphany of his life came in boyhood, while in front of a television screen, he said."My dad and I lost it. Seeing my father laugh like that made me think, 'Who is this guy and what's he on?' " Williams wrote in 2013.The symbiosis lasted throughout Williams' career, except Williams was a far more hyperactive comic. Pity the co-star with whom he shared a stage. There was no way to stop Williams when he was on a roll. Just WatchedOne man, one stage, so much laughterreplayMore Videos ...One man, one stage, so much laughter 02:10PLAY VIDEOWinters, in contrast, enjoyed a pause. He evoked an era before technology decimated our attention spans.What the two masters shared was an irrepressible mischief, delivering joke upon joke with originality and freshness that left audiences wondering, how do they do it?"Once upon a time, I called Jonathan my mentor and he immediately corrected me and said, 'Please,' he told me, 'I prefer idol,' " Williams said, drawing laughter from an audience gathered for the 2008 TV Land Awards.Williams presented the Pioneer Award to Winters at that event.Robin Williams presents the Pioneer Award to actor Jonathan Winters at the TV Land Awards in 2008."Jonathan Winters is my idol, and he is a true pioneer," Williams added in a rare moment of seriousness.It wasn't the first time the mentor and the protégé shared a telecast.When the acolyte surpassed the master and became a bigger name in show business, he and his producers invited Winters to join Williams' successful sitcom "Mork & Mindy" in 1981.It could have made for an awkward moment: Winters was clearly the journeyman, in his late 50s; Williams was turning 30 that year. After all, Winters was better known to the generation of Williams' parents. Winters' namesake show aired in 1956, when Williams was 5.What would Hollywood do? In a clever move, the show employed a role reversal. Winters emerged from an egg as a middle-aged offspring of Williams' Mork and Pam Dawber's Mindy.The image of Winters as an infant born to Williams was an example of the two comics' imaginative powers."Jonathan's improvs on 'Mork & Mindy' were legendary," Williams wrote in the Times. "People on the Paramount lot would pack the sound stage on the nights we filmed him. ... Sometimes I would join in (on his bit), but I felt like a kazoo player sitting in with Coltrane."Winters cast a long shadow in Williams' work, comedian Gilbert Gottfried said.Jonathan Winters in a publicity 1956 shot for "The Jonathan Winters Show," which aired on NBC."When you watch Robin Williams, you can see a lot of Jonathan Winters. Robin is the first one to admit that; he worshiped Jonathan Winters. He insisted that Jonathan be written in as a regular on 'Mork and Mindy.' They wrote him in as an overgrown child, which was perfect casting," Gottfried wrote for CNN in a tribute to Winters shortly after his death.Their shared backgrounds weren't all laughs, however.Both men knew darkness. Inner battles took them to the brink.Winters suffered two nervous breakdowns, in 1959 and 1961, according to the Internet Movie Database. He even voluntarily spent time in a private mental institution in his early 30s. And, like Williams, Winters also saw uneasy moments with his father, a banker who became an alcoholic after losing everything in the Great Depression, IMDB says. When in his room away from his parents, who later divorced, Winters invented characters to amuse himself.Winters was a manic depressive, or bipolar, and described to National Public Radio in 2011 how, "I need that pain — whatever it is — to call upon it from time to time, no matter how bad it was."Williams' descents into the abyss are well known because he openly spoke about them. He was an alcoholic who suffered relapse, costing him his second of three marriages. He abused cocaine, and made jokes about it afterward. Just WatchedWilliams in 2007: 'I was an alcoholic'replayMore Videos ...Williams in 2007: 'I was an alcoholic' 01:30PLAY VIDEOHe also suffered depression -- so hard to imagine between all the laughs -- and at the time of his death, he was being treated for a severe bout that now seems more serious than he ever allowed his audiences to know.Whatever hardships they endured, both jesters left a legacy that is unconquerable: a public court that is still laughing and a world of characters as richly pluralized as the names of Winters and Williams.Complete coverage on Robin WilliamsRobin Williams: Full of talent, full of demons, full of heartRobin WilliamsRobin Williams dead at age 63Robin Williams, who first made America laugh and eventually touched "every element of the human spirit" in a remarkable range of performances, died at age 63.Complete coverageSee our complete coverage as we remember comedian and actor Robin Williams.The world according to RobinWatch and remember the career of Robin Williams by revisiting some of his best moments from stage, film, and television.Comedic actor Robin WilliamsClick through our gallery of Robin Williams and his memorable roles.Robin Williams suffered early stages of Parkinson's disease, wife revealsRobin Williams was sober, but was struggling with depression, anxiety and the early stages of Parkinson's disease when he died, his widow said.What is Parkinson's disease?Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease when he died. What is Parkinson's disease?His advice still mattersRobin Williams gave a lot of advice and his words carry as much power now as they ever did. Robin Williams: Full of talent, full of demons, full of heartOf all the things to say about Robin Williams, the truest may be this: He made people smile.Entertainment world mourns passing of WilliamsRobin Williams delighted fans with his off-the-wall, high-energy comedy that took unexpected turn after unexpected turn. One man, one stage, so much laughterA collection of some of the beloved comedians' more colorful stand-up moments throughout the years.Behind Williams' genius was the great comic Jonathan WintersBefore Robin Williams, there was Jonathan Winters.I met Robin Williams: Your stories of the comic legendRobin Williams touched more people emotionally than he will ever know.Robin Williams' other role: humanitarianRobin Williams was not only known for bringing laughter to so many throughout his career but for bringing compassion to his philanthropic causes as well. Robin Williams: The man beyond the screenWho was Robin Williams?Williams leaves behind 4 films to be releasedThere didn't seem to be too much that Robin Williams couldn't do.Robin Williams: King of talk show guestsThere was never a dull moment when Robin Williams sat in the guest's chair. Here are some of the best.Where to stream his essential performancesRobin Williams, who died Monday at age 63, was Peter Pan to some, Mrs. Doubtfire to others, and a beloved actor to many. Robin Williams' beloved movie charactersHere's a look back at some of the more than 100 movie characters that actor Robin Williams brought to life.7 Robin Williams movies that made your childhood If there was any actor who could make the entire family laugh, it was Robin Williams. Patients' families remember 'comedic Mother Teresa'As a medical student who used humor to help his patients, Robin Williams' role in "Patch Adams" was touching and memorable. Robin Williams and the dark side of comedyBy tradition, Drama is represented by two masks: the happy face of the comic muse Thalia and her sad counterpart, the tragic muse Melpomene.Comedic geniuses who left us too soonRobin Williams and other comedians who were gone too soon. Robin Williams: 9 Memorable MomentsComedic actor Robin Williams died at his Northern California home. Here's a look at some moments from his acting.Robin Williams Entertains TroopsOver the years, Robin Williams entertained nearly 90 thousand troops in 13 different countries with the USO. Going public with depressionThe more people share their experiences with depression, the more others suffering from the condition realize they're not alone, says Kat Kinsman.Robin Williams' best impressionsHe could do 'em all! Check out some of Robin Williams' best impressions.Williams' wife: I am utterly heartbrokenVideo: A statement from Robin Williams' wife confirms: "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend."More from showbizSAG Awards: See who's nominated5 surprises about CNN's Roger Ebert film, 'Life Itself'