Hollywood has lost one of its greatest comic legends.
Jerry Lewis, the legendary comedian, singer, actor, filmmaker, and telethon host for Muscular Dystrophy during the Labor Day weekend, passed away in his Las Vegas home at the age of 91.
Lewis was known for his humble beginnings to his legendary team-up with Dean Martin, a partnership which lasted from 1946 to 1956 and then going solo, becoming an iconic Hollywood figure whose legacy had influenced many generations of comedians.
Lewis was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a vaudeville performer who used the stage name of Danny Lewis and it was clear that young Joseph was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps when he started performing at the age of five.
He was first credited as Joey Lewis, but to avoid confusion with fellow comic Joe E. Lewis, Joseph changed his name to the name we all know today: Jerry Lewis. Dropping out of school, Lewis’s attempt to join the military was cut when it was revealed he had a heart murmur.
In 1945, Lewis met iconic crooner Dean Martin and on July 25, 1946, the two began what would be an iconic comic team that lasted exactly ten years when Martin decided to leave on July 25, 1956. While the pairing proved to be successful, it was known that Lewis was becoming somewhat of the bigger star, leading the split between the duo.
Lewis’ solo career started when Judy Garland was ill for a performance in Las Vegas and Lewis was asked by Garland’s husband, Sid Luft, to take the stage. The performance was a smash hit and Lewis finally realized he didn’t need a partner. He would release an album and then, he would begin to appear in films and television doing his comedy shtick, showing what would be his trademark slapstick humor.
Some of his best solo films include The Bellboy, The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, The Disorderly Orderly, and The Big Mouth. In 1972, Lewis starred and directed the unreleased The Day The Clown Cried. The film, which depicted a clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, was according to Lewis, an embarrassing film that he vowed up unto his death, that he will never release.
Lewis was also known for his humanitarian work as the national chairman and spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Assocation, holding his annual telethon every Labor Day weekend. Until now, the MDA has raised over $2 billion dollars to go to research into finding a cure for muscular dystrophy.
Lewis is survived by his wife SanDee and seven children, six from his first marriage. World Film Geek sends its condolences to the family of Jerry Lewis.
As a final tribute, here is an 8-minute clip of some of the funniest scenes from my personal favorite Lewis film, The Nutty Professor, from YouTube user Rayo P.
Rest in Peace, Jerry Lewis. You will forever be a comic legend!