Comedic actor and Rat Pack member Jerry Lewis died August 20 in his Las Vegas home at the age of 91. According to Lewis’ publicist Candi Cazau, Lewis was surrounded by family at the time of his death. Over the year, Lewis has had a number of health issues including three heart attacks, diabetes, prostrate cancer, and viral meningitis.
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While Lewis appeared in dozens of productions and made nearly 200 appearances as himself, to millions he is the recognizable face of the annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon which ran over the Labor Day weekend for many years. He is responsible for the organization bringing in billions of dollars for research and treatment of individuals who were diagnosed with one of the muscular neuro deterioration diseases.
Saying that he was a perpetual nine year old, Lewis noted, “I get paid for what most kids get punished for.”
The only child of Vaudeville performers, Jerome Joseph Levitch was born on March 16, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey and was destined to make the stage his home beginning when he was only five years old as a part of his parents’ act. At 16 he had become a professional performer and making as much as $150 per week performing what is known today as lip syncing. When World War II broke out, Lewis was denied service due to a heart murmur and punctured eardrum so he did his part for the war effort by entertaining the troops.
After the war he teamed up with crooner Dean Martin which proved to be a successful pairing for the both of them until they went their separate way after a decade of performing together.
More than a slapstick comic, Lewis performed on the Broadway stage, first as himself in “Jerry Lewis at the Palace” and as Applegate in the revival of “Damn Yankees”. He also played the role in the touring production of the musical. Lewis never retired from performing, in his eighties he was still touring and performing in “The Nutty Professor”.
He made his screen debut in 1949 in “My Friend Irma”. From there he went on to appear in over 70 productions including “My Fried Irma Goes West”, “The Caddy”, “Rock-a-Bye Baby”, “Geisha Boy”, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, “The Bellboy”, “Cinderella”, “The Nutty Professor”, “It’s Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “The Disorderly Orderly”, “Ben Casey”, the “Batman” television series, “The King of Comedy”, “Wiseguy”, “Mad About You”, “The Simpsons”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, “Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey”, and his final appearance as Stone’s father in “The Trust”.
Lewis is credited with a number of writing, directing, and producing credits including “Rock-a-Bye Baby”, “Geisha Boy”, “The Bellboy”, “Cinderella”, “The Disorderly Orderly”, “The Nutty Professor” films, and his own television series.
Making nearly 200 appearances as himself Lewis made his debut in 1948 television series “Ship’s Reported”. He also appeared in variety programs, documentaries, award programs, game shows, late night television shows, and his own television series.
Lewis has been presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his work with MDA, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by France, is a member of the French Legion of Honour, an American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, a Primetime Emmys Governor’s Award, and the Commander of Arts and Letters also from France.
Lewis didn’t just star in movies, he showed them in some movie theaters that he owned. The business only lasted 10 years before he filed for bankruptcy.
Predeceased by his son Joseph, Lewis’ survivors include his second wife SanDee, children Gary of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Dani, Ron, Scott, Chris, and Anthony; and several grandchildren.
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