This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
Comedian Jerry Lewis Dies At 91
Comedian and actor Jerry Lewis died on Sunday at the age of 91, reports The Hollywood Reporter. He passed away at his home in Las Vegas.
Born in Newark, New Jersey as Joseph Levitch, Lewis grew up in a vaudeville family. His father Daniel was an actor, and his mother Rae played piano for WOR, a New York City radio station. Lewis dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to pursue a career in comedy and performance.
It was at the age of 19, while performing in the New York comedy circuit, that he'd meet his eventual partner Dean Martin at the Glass Hat Club in New York City. Their stint together began at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, when a performer canceled on Lewis, leading the comedian to tell the club to book Martin.“I fell in love with him the day we met. I wish he were here. He was a miracle that God put in my life and working with him was a feeling I’ll never ever forget," Lewis told the Sunday Express in 2016. The two would go on to star in 17 movies together; the titles included The Stooge and Hollywood or Bust.
By the mid 1950s the partnership was dissolving, as Martin grew increasingly dissatisfied with what he considered to be a comedic sidekick role. Martin would branch off to become a solo recording artist. He'd become a member of Frank Sinatra's fabled Rat Pack, and starred in his own variety series. Lewis would similarly find success on his own; he directed and starred in 1963's The Nutty Professor, delivered a memorable performance in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (alongside Robert DeNiro), and eventually appeared in over 30 movies.
"I am not ashamed or embarrassed at how seemingly trite or saccharine something in my films will sound. I really do make films for my great-great-grandchildren and not for my fellows at the Screen Directors Guild or for the critics," Lewis wrote in the 1971 book The Total Film-Maker, according to KPCC.
Lewis also served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Starting in 1955, he hosted the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon, which The Oregonian says had raised nearly $2 billion in its decades-long run. The telethon would see the departure of Lewis in 2011, and would air its final show in 2014.
Lewis' popularity was evident in Europe too, especially in France. In 1984 he was presented with the French Legion of Honor. Back in America, he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2009 by the Academy.
Lewis was honored on Twitter by other performers on Sunday:
Jerry Lewis passed today,millions around the world loved him,millions of kids he helped w/his telethons. R.I.P. &condolences 2 his family— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) August 20, 2017
Here are some select clips of Lewis over the decades: