Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies at age 91
It is with great sadness that we report (via Las Vegas Review Journal reporter John Katsilometes) that comedy legend Jerry Lewis has passed away at age 91 at his home in Las Vegas.
“Legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis passed away peacefully today of natural causes at 91 at his home with his family by his side,” a statement said. Lewis had last been hospitalized in June, according to People.
The prolific comedian, actor, director and philanthropist got his start as a nightclub act with singer/actor Dean Martin, with Lewis acting as goofball to Martin’s handsome straight man. The two took their act to radio and then the big screen, becoming two of the most famous and successful entertainers of the 1950s. They made 17 films together, including My Friend Irma (1949), The Caddy (1953) and Artists and Models (1955). Martin and Lewis disbanded as a team in 1956 and only made a handful of appearances together, eventually reconciling in the 1980’s.
Once Lewis became a solo act he starred in several films for animator-turned-director Frank Tashlin, including The Geisha Boy and Cinderfella, before heading behind the camera himself. With 1960’s The Bellboy, Lewis became a full-blown auteur as writer, producer, director and star in the near-silent onscreen slapstick role. He would direct twelve more films, including The Ladies Man which featured an innovative cross-section set. His masterpiece was the 1963 picture The Nutty Professor, in which he played a dweeby scientist whose formula transforms him into the handsome, suave Buddy Love. The Jekyl & Hyde story was seen as something of a commentary on his relationship with Dean Martin, and was later successfully remade with Eddie Murphy in 1996 as The Nutty Professor, followed by Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, both of which Lewis executive produced. A direct-to-video animated sequel also titled The Nutty Professor was released in 2008 and featured the voice of Lewis.
Perhaps Lewis’ most controversial directorial effort was his unreleased 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried, in which he played a circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II who is forced to lead children to the gas chambers. Due to various contract disputes and Lewis’ dislike of the final product, the film remained unfinished and, despite rabid interest (or perhaps morbid curiosity) of the public, Lewis has kept the rough cut unreleased. Several minutes of footage was uploaded to the internet in 2016.
In later years Lewis gave up directing but acted in several notable films, including as a Johnny Carson-esque late night talk show host opposite Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Arizona Dream opposite Johnny Depp, Funny Bones with Oliver Platt and the 2016 drama Max Rose.
Lewis is also famous for having helped raise more than $2 billion dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through an annual telethon which he hosted for 44 years.
Lewis is survived by his wife SanDee Pitnick, five sons (one adopted) including singer Gary Lewis and one adopted daughter. A sixth and youngest son, Joseph Lewis, died in 2009.
Goodbye to the real, no irony, king of comedy. pic.twitter.com/t7qEkDo4Sl
— Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) August 20, 2017
That fool was no dummy. Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was! ;^D pic.twitter.com/3Zdq9xhXlE
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) August 20, 2017
Jerry Lewis has passed on. I sincerely hope his afterlife is a warm, peaceful…
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 20, 2017
The State was at Jerry Lewis’ birthday, 1993. He came over to us and yelled “I got shorts older than you!” Like a blessing from the pope.
— Thomas Lennon (@thomaslennon) August 20, 2017
I’m heartbroken at the loss of our life-long friend (Uncle) Jerry Lewis. I’ve loved him all my life and will miss him greatly.
Deana Martin pic.twitter.com/ECsrZ4haLd
— Deana Martin (@DeanaMartin_) August 20, 2017
It was incredible knowing & laughing with the Amazing Jerry Lewis! He’ll keep’em laffin in the ever after!
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) August 20, 2017
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
— Jamie Lee Curtis (@jamieleecurtis) August 20, 2017
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)