Tony Sokol

Aug 21, 2017

Versatile, innovative and controversial, Jerry Lewis leaves a legacy of laughs and charity work.

Jerry Lewis, the legendary comedian, actor, singer and philanthropist, has died at the age of 91.

Lewis is as well known for starring and directing films like The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, and The Bellboy as he is for his marathon fundraising telethons on US TV for Muscular Dystrophy. He first found fame with his legendary ten-year partnership with Dean Martin.

Lewis paired with Dean Martin in 1946. Starting in nightclubs, Martin and Lewis moved their way through almost countless radio shows and made 16 movies. The pair costarred in such films as My Friend Irma (1949), At War With the Army (1950), Sailor Beware (1952), The Caddy (1953), Living It Up (1954), You’re Never Too Young (1955), and Artists And Models (1955). The last movie they made together was Hollywood Or Bust (1956). 

After the partnership ended, Lewis teamed with director Frank Tashlin for such films as Rock-A-Bye Baby (1958). Lewis broke out to write, direct and produce his own films like The Nutty Professor. Jerry Lewis movies weren’t as popular by the mid-1960s, but he remained influential, even teaching film at the University of Southern California.

Years after Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and years before Roberto Benignini’s Life Is Beautiful, Lewis set his 1972 film The Day The Clown Cried in a Nazi concentration camp. He considered the finished film an artistic failure and pulled it before it was released.

“You will never see it, no one will ever see it,” Lewis said at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. “Because I am embarrassed at the poor work.” He donated a copy to the Library of Congress in August 2015, with understanding that it not be shown for a decade.

Lewis made his movie comeback in 1980, with the film Hardly Working. Martin Scorsese cast him as a popular talk show host in The King Of Comedy (1982), which starred Robert De Niro. Lewis also appeared in Cookie (1989), Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night (1992), Arizona Dream (1993), Funny Bones (1995), Max Rose (2016), and The Trust (2016). On TV, he guest-starred on a 2006 episode of Law & Order: SVU.

Lewis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for his Muscular Dystrophy Telethons, which raised awareness to the disease and almost $2.5 billion for its treatment by the late 2000s. 

Lewis married singer Patti Palmer when he was 18. They were married from 1944 to 1982. The couple had five sons and adopted another child. Lewis married SanDee Pitnick in 1983. They adopted a daughter, Danielle.

Rest in peace, Mr Lewis.