Lewis in the 1960s
March 16, 1926
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||August 20, 2017
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cardiovascular disease|
|Resting place||Cremated, ashes given to family|
|Patti Palmer (m. 1944; div. 1980)
SanDee Pitnick (m. 1983)
|Children||7, including Gary Lewis|
Jerry Lewis (born Joseph Levitch, March 16, 1926 - August 20, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, singer, humanitarian, filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, headliner and author. He was known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio and was nicknamed the "King of Comedy". Lewis was one-half of the hit popular comedy duo Martin and Lewis with singer Dean Martin from 1946 to 1956.
After the team split, he became a director and solo star in motion pictures, made appearances in nightclubs, on television shows, in concerts and musicals and sang in music albums and recordings. Outside of his career, Lewis supported fundraising for muscular dystrophy research, serving for 60 years as spokesman for and national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosted and emceed the live Labor Day weekend broadcast of The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon for 44 years.
One of the most successful performers in show business, with worldwide box office receipts of his films in excess of $800 million, Lewis received global acclaim for his unique ability and style with both comedy and drama. As part of Martin and Lewis and as a solo actor, he was voted Hollywood's top box-office from 1951 to 1965, in later years as the sole comedian.
Lewis was born on March 16, 1926, at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, to Russian Jewish parents. His father, Daniel Levitch (1902-1980), born in New York, was a master of ceremonies and vaudeville entertainer who used the professional name Danny Lewis.:11 His mother, Rachel "Rae" Levitch (née Brodsky; 1903-1983), (born in Mazowieckie, Poland, of a Russian father and Polish mother) went by the stage name Rae Lewis,:12 was a piano player for the radio station WOR and was her husband's musical director. Lewis began performing at age five and would often perform alongside his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York. He was a "character" even in his teenage years, pulling pranks in his neighborhood including sneaking into kitchens to steal fried chicken and pies. He dropped out of Irvington High School in the tenth grade.
By age 15, he had developed his "Record Act" miming lyrics to songs while a phonograph played offstage. He used the professional name Joey Lewis but soon changed it to Jerry Lewis to avoid confusion with comedian Joe E. Lewis and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.:85 He landed a gig at a burlesque house in Buffalo, but his performance fell flat and was unable to book any more shows. Lewis worked as a soda jerk and a theater usher for Suzanne Pleshette's father Gene at the Paramount Theater to make ends meet.
A veteran burlesque comedian, Max Coleman, who had worked with Lewis' father years before, convinced him to try again. Irving Kaye, a Borscht Belt comedian, saw Lewis' mime act at Brown's Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, New York, the following summer, and the audience was so enthusiastic that Kaye became Lewis' manager and guardian for Borscht Belt appearances. During World War II, he was rejected for military service because of a heart murmur.
Lewis initially gained attention as part of a double act with singer Dean Martin, who served as straight man to Lewis' zany antics as the Martin and Lewis comedy team. They were different from other duo acts of the time because they played to each other and had ad-libbed improvisational segments within their planned routines.
After forming in 1946, they quickly rose to national prominence, first with their popular nightclub act, then as stars of The Martin and Lewis Show on the radio NBC Red Network. The two made appearances on early live television on their June 20, 1948 debut broadcast on Toast of the Town (later renamed as The Ed Sullivan Show on September 25, 1955) on CBS. This was followed on October 3, 1948, by an appearance on NBC's Welcome Aboard.
In 1950 Martin and Lewis signed with NBC to be one of a series of weekly rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour, a live Sunday evening broadcast. Lewis, writer for the team's nightclub act, hired Norman Lear and Ed Simmons as regular writers for their Comedy Hour material. Their Comedy Hour shows consisted of stand-up dialogue, song and dance from their nightclub act and movies, backed by Dick Stabile's big band, slapstick and satirical sketch comedy, Martin's solo songs, and Lewis' solo pantomimes or physical numbers.
Martin and Lewis often broke character, ad-libbing and breaking the fourth wall. While not completely capturing the orchestrated mayhem of their nightclub act, the Comedy Hour displayed the charismatic energy between the team and established their popularity nationwide. By 1951, with an appearance at New York's Paramount Theater, they were a cultural phenomenon, attracting crowds rivaled only by Frank Sinatra earlier (a friend of Lewis and Martin) and later by other stars Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
The duo began their Paramount film careers as ensemble players in My Friend Irma (1949), based on the radio series of the same name, and its sequel My Friend Irma Goes West (1950). Starting with At War with the Army (1950), Martin and Lewis were the stars of their own vehicles in fourteen additional titles, That's My Boy (1951), Sailor Beware (1952), Jumping Jacks (1952), The Stooge (1952), Scared Stiff (1953), The Caddy (1953), Money from Home (1953), Living It Up (1954), 3 Ring Circus (1954), You're Never Too Young (1955), Artists and Models (1955) and Pardners (1956) ending with Hollywood or Bust (1956). All 16 films were produced by Hal B. Wallis.
They also starred as cameos in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope's film Road to Bali (1952). Attesting to the duo's popularity, DC Comics published The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis from 1952 to 1957. In 1954, the team appeared on episode 191 of What's My Line? as mystery guests, hosted the 27th annual Academy Awards in 1955 and then appeared on The Steve Allen Show and The Today Show in 1956.
The Martin and Lewis films were reliable financial successes for Paramount, and hugely popular with audiences. In later years, both Lewis and Martin admitted frustration, and were critical of Wallis for his formulaic and trite film choices, restricting them to narrow, repetitive roles. As Martin's roles in their films became less important over time, and Lewis receiving the majority of critical acclaim, the partnership came under strain.
Martin's participation became an embarrassment in 1954 when Look magazine published a publicity photo of the team for the magazine cover but cropped Martin out. The partnership ended with their final nightclub act on July 24, 1956 (the team's 10th anniversary of their debut as a duo). Both Martin and Lewis went on to highly successful solo careers, and neither would comment on the split nor consider a reunion. However, they would occasionally be seen at the same public events.
After his partnership with Martin ended in 1956, Lewis and his wife Patty took a vacation in Las Vegas to consider the direction of his career. He felt his life was in a crisis state: "I was unable to put one foot in front of the other with any confidence. I was completely unnerved to be alone". While there, he received an urgent request from his friend Sid Luft, who was Judy Garland's husband and manager, saying that she couldn't perform that night in Las Vegas because of strep throat, and asking Lewis to fill in.
Lewis had not sung alone on stage since he was five years old, twenty-five years before, but he appeared before the audience of a thousand nonetheless, delivering jokes and clowning with the audience while Garland sat off-stage, watching. He then sang a rendition of a song he'd learned as a child, "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" along with "Come Rain or Come Shine." Lewis recalled, "When I was done, the place exploded. I walked off the stage knowing I could make it on my own".
At his wife's pleading, Lewis used his own money to record the songs on a single. Record company Capitol Records heard it, liked it and insisted he record an album for them.Jerry Lewis Just Sings went to number three on the Billboard charts, staying near the top for four months and selling a million and a half copies. With the success of that album he recorded the additional albums More Jerry Lewis and Somebody Loves Me.
Having proven he could sing and do live shows, he began performing regularly at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, beginning in late 1956, which marked a turning point in his life and career. The Sands signed him for five years, to perform six weeks each year and paid him the same amount they had paid Martin and Lewis as a team. The critics gave him positive reviews: "Jerry was wonderful. He has proved that he can be a success by himself," wrote one. He continued with club performances in Miami, New York, Chicago and Washington. In February, he followed Garland at the Palace Theater in New York and his ex-partner Martin called during this period to wish him the best of luck. "I've never been happier," said Lewis. "I have peace of mind for the first time."
Lewis established himself as a solo act in television and movies starting with the first of six appearances on What's My Line? from 1956 to 1966. He appeared in his first solo TV special for NBC in January 1957. Then starred in his adaptation of "The Jazz Singer" for Startime. He hosted the Academy Awards three times, in 1956, 1957 and the 31st Academy Awards in 1959, which ran twenty minutes short, forcing Lewis to improvise to fill time. DC Comics, switching from Martin and Lewis, published a new comic book series titled The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, running from 1957 to 1971.
Lewis remained at Paramount and became a comedy star in his own right. His first solo movie was The Delicate Delinquent (1957), marking Lewis' debut as film producer and screenwriter. Teaming with director Frank Tashlin, whose background as a Looney Tunes cartoon director suited Lewis' brand of humor, he starred in five more films, The Sad Sack (1957), Rock-A-Bye Baby (1958), The Geisha Boy (1958), Don't Give Up The Ship (1959). Lewis also played Itchy McRabbitt, an uncredited role in Li'l Abner (1959).
By the end of his contract with producer Hal B. Wallis, Lewis had several productions of his own under his belt. As a solo, Lewis was free to deepen his comedy with pathos, believing, "Funny without pathos is a pie in the face. And a pie in the face is funny, but I wanted more." "True humor comes out of real situations."
In 1959, a contract between Paramount and Jerry Lewis Productions (Lewis' production company) was signed specifying a payment of $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over a seven-year period. This contract made Lewis the highest paid individual Hollywood talent to date and was unprecedented in that he had unlimited creative control, including final cut, and the return of film rights after 30 years. Lewis' clout and box office were so strong, the head of production at Paramount at that time, Barney Balaban told the press, "If Jerry wants to burn down the studio I'll give him the match!"
Lewis made many guest appearances on both Tonight Starring Jack Paar and The Ed Sullivan Show. He had finished his film contract with Wallis with Visit to a Small Planet (1960) and wrapped up production on his own film Cinderfella (1960), with Ed Wynn. The movie was postponed for a Christmas 1960 release. Paramount Pictures, needing a quickie motion picture for its summer 1960 schedule, held Lewis to his contract to produce one.
As a result, he made his debut as film director of and starred in The Bellboy (1960). Using the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami as his setting -- on a small budget, with a very tight shooting schedule, and no script -- Lewis shot the film during the day and performed at the hotel in the evenings.Bill Richmond collaborated with him on many of the sight gags. Lewis later revealed that the Paramount studio was not happy about financing a "silent movie" and withdrew backing. Lewis used his own funds to cover the movie's $950,000 budget.
Lewis followed The Bellboy by directing several more films he co-wrote with Richmond, including The Ladies Man (1961), where Lewis constructed a three-story dollhouse-like set spanning two sound stages. The set was equipped with state of the art lighting and sound, eliminating the need for boom mics in each room. And, The Errand Boy (1961), one of the earliest films about moviemaking, utilizing all of Paramount's backlot and offices. Lewis then starred in his first special in three years The Wacky World of Jerry Lewis. He appeared in an episode of Celebrity Golf followed by a guest spot on an episode of The Garry Moore Show. He then starred in It's Only Money (1962).
Also in 1962, Lewis was a guest host on The Tonight Show during the transition from Jack Paar to Johnny Carson. His appearance scored the highest ratings thus far in late night, surpassing other guest hosts, and Paar. The three networks began a bidding war, wooing Lewis for his own talk show, which debuted the following year.
Lewis then directed, co-wrote and starred with Stella Stevens in the smash hit The Nutty Professor (1963). A parody of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it featured Lewis as a socially awkward professor inventing a serum that turns him into a handsome but obnoxious ladies man. It is largely considered to be Lewis' finest and most memorable film. In 2004, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Lewis took time from shooting to film a cameo role in Stanley Kramer's comedy epic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
He starred next in Who's Minding the Store? (1963) and then hosted The Jerry Lewis Show, a 13-week lavish, big-budget show for ABC, that aired from September to December in 1963. The show suffered in the ratings, beleaguered by technical and other difficulties, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which left the country in a somber mood. Lewis co-wrote and starred in The Patsy (1964), his satire about the Hollywood star-making industry.
Following next was The Disorderly Orderly (1964), in which Lewis served as executive producer and featured a new title song for the film performed by Lewis' good friend Sammy Davis Jr. After that, Lewis then directed, co-wrote and appeared in The Family Jewels (1965) about a young heiress who must choose among six uncles, one of whom is up to no good and out to harm the girl's beloved bodyguard who practically raised her. This Diamond Ring, a song sung by Lewis' son Gary Lewis and his band was featured in the film. Lewis played all six uncles and the bodyguard.
In 1965, Lewis made an uncredited role in Red Line 7000, then was interviewed on The David Susskind Show. He would next co-star alongside Tony Curtis' lead in Boeing Boeing (1965), based on the French play of the same name. He received a Golden Globe nomination for this role. Lewis directed and appeared on an episode of Ben Casey, an early dramatic role. He also appeared on The Andy Williams Show, and Hullabaloo with his son Gary Lewis. By 1966, Lewis, then 40, was no longer an angular juvenile, and with popular tastes changing, the new executives for Paramount declined to renew his 1959 profit sharing contract. Undaunted, Lewis packed up and went to Columbia Pictures, where he made and starred in Three on a Couch (1966).
He appeared on The Merv Griffin Show alongside Richard Pryor. Next, Lewis starred in Way...Way Out (1966), with Connie Stevens for 20th Century Fox, then for television, he had cameos in Batman, Laugh In, was a panalist on Password and in a pilot for Sheriff Who. Lewis returned with a new version of The Jerry Lewis Show, this time as a one-hour variety show for NBC, which ran from 1967 to 1969. He directed and starred in The Big Mouth (1967), then made an appearance on The Danny Thomas Hour.
Lewis next starred in Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968). In 1968, Lewis appeared as a guest on an episode of Playboy After Dark, surprising Davis Jr. He then starred in Hook, Line & Sinker (1969), with Peter Lawford and afterwards, guest starred in an episode of Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters Hour.
In 1970, Lewis guest appeared on The Red Skelton Show. Lewis contributed to some scripts for the Filmation animated series Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, aired from 1970 to 1972 on ABC. He later guest hosted The Mike Douglas Show and then directed an episode of The Bold Ones. He made guest appearances on The Hollywood Palace, The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, The Irv Kupcinet Show, The Linkletter Show, The Real Tom Kennedy Show and A Christmas Night with the Stars.
Lewis would go on to direct and make his first offscreen voice performance as a bandleader in One More Time (1970), a sequel to the 1968 film Salt and Pepper. Next, he produced, directed and starred in Which Way to the Front? (1970) for Warner Bros., then guest appeared on The Carol Burnett Show, The Rolf Harris Show and The Kraft Music Hall in 1971.
Lewis then directed and starred in the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried (1972), a drama set in a Nazi concentration camp. Lewis rarely discussed the film, but stated litigation over post-production finances and copyright prevented the film's completion and theatrical release. During his book tour for Dean and Me he also said a factor for the film's burial was that he was not proud of the effort. In a 2012 interview with an Australian documentary film crew, Lewis explained his reason for choosing the project and the emotional difficulty of the subject matter.
Within historical context, the movie was the earliest attempt by an American motion picture director to address the subject of The Holocaust, preceding by thirteen years Claude Lanzmann's groundbreaking film Shoah, and more than twenty years, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful, dealing with similar themes. Significant speculation continues to surround the film. Following this, Lewis would take a break from the movie business for several years.
In 1973, Lewis was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show and NBC Follies. He then appeared on Celebrity Sportsman in 1974. Next, Lewis appeared as guest on both Cher and Dinah! in 1975, then starred with Lynn Redgrave in a revival of Hellzapoppin in 1976, but it closed on the road before reaching Broadway. Lewis served as guest host (and as ringmaster) of Circus of the Stars in 1979.
In September 1976, Frank Sinatra shocked Lewis by bringing Dean Martin on stage during the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. As Martin and Lewis embraced, the audience cheered and the phones lit up, resulting in one of the telethon's most profitable years. Lewis reported the event was one of the three most memorable of his life. Lewis quipped, "So, you working?", which he stated was a call-back to a remark he'd made to Martin when they first met.
Martin, playing drunk, replied that he was "at the Meggum" (meaning the MGM Grand). The reunion made international headlines and is considered one of the most iconic moments in television history. Less well known, Lewis returned the surprise the following year by walking onto the Aladdin stage in Las Vegas during Martin and Sinatra's performance. They exchanged jokes for several minutes.
After an absence of 11 years, Lewis returned to film in Hardly Working (1981), a movie in which he both directed and starred and despite being panned by critics, it eventually earned $50 million. In 1982, Lewis was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman. In 1983, Lewis co-starred in Martin Scorsese's film The King of Comedy, in which he portrayed a late-night television host plagued by two obsessive fans, played by Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard. Lewis received wide critical acclaim, and a BAFTA nomination, for this serious dramatic role.
Lewis guest hosted Saturday Night Live and also appeared in Cracking Up a.k.a. Smorgasbord (1983) and Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1984). Next, Lewis starred in two French films, To Catch a Cop a.k.a. The Defective Detective (1984) and How Did You Get In? We Didn't See You Leave (1984). Lewis stated that as long as he had control over distribution of those movies, they would never have a theatrical release in America. Lewis then hosted a syndicated talk show for Metromedia which was not continued beyond the scheduled five shows.
In 1985, Lewis directed an episode of the Showtime comedy series Brothers. In 1986, Lewis appeared at the first Comic Relief, where he was the only performer to receive a standing ovation. He also starred in the ABC televised movie Fight For Life (1987), with Patty Duke. In 1988, he hosted America's All-Time Favorite Movies then was interviewed by Howard Cosell on Speaking of Everything. He then starred in five episodes of Wiseguy. The filming schedule of the show forced Lewis to miss the Museum of the Moving Image's opening with a retrospective of his work.
In 1987, 1988 and 1989, Lewis performed in Las Vegas with Davis Jr. It was his first 'double-act' since the split with Martin. In 1987, during the engagement, Lewis learned of the death of Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin. Lewis attended the funeral, leading to a more substantial reconciliation with Martin. In 1989, Lewis joined Martin on stage, for what would be Martin's final live performance, at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Lewis wheeled out a cake on Martin's 72nd birthday, sang "Happy Birthday" to him and joked, "Why we broke up, I'll never know". Again, their appearance together made headlines. He then appeared in Cookie (1989).
In 1991, Lewis guest starred in and directed an episode of the FOX series Good Grief. In 1992, Lewis had a cameo in Mr. Saturday Night (1992), appeared as a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show, The Whoopi Goldberg Show and was interviewed by Alan King on Inside The Comedy Mind. Lewis produced a three-part retrospective for The Disney Channel entitled Martin & Lewis: Their Golden Age of Comedy, using previously unseen kinescopes from his personal archive, highlighting his years as part of a team with Martin and his solo work.
In 1993, he was a guest star in an episode of Mad About You as an eccentric billionaire and co-starred in the film Arizona Dream (1993) as a car salesman uncle to Johnny Depp's character as his nephew. Lewis then starred as the 'Comedy Legend' father of a young comic, played by Oliver Platt, in Funny Bones (1995). Lewis' role serves as the metaphorical pivot in 20th Century comedy, from slapstick anarchists to clever storytellers. Both Arizona Dream and Funny Bones were tongue-in-cheek roles for independent films.
In 1995, realizing a lifelong ambition, Lewis made his Broadway debut, as a replacement cast member, in a revival of Damn Yankees. Playing the devil, he was reportedly paid the highest sum in Broadway history at the time. He performed in both the national and London runs of the musical. Lewis missed three performances in four-plus years, one being the funeral of his former partner, Martin. He was then interviewed by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio.
Then in 1996, and with the sequel in 2000, Lewis served as executive producer of the Universal releases of The Nutty Professor remake and The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Both movies starred Eddie Murphy as the lead role of Professor Sherman Klump.
In 2000, Lewis appeared as a guest on The Martin Short Show and then on Russell Gilbert Live. In 2003, Lewis did guest appearances on Larry King Live and The View and did a guest voice as Professor Frink's father in a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons. Lewis then made a cameo in the film Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls in 2004.
During 2005, Lewis went on make guest appearances on Late Night with Conan O' Brien and Live with Kelly. In 2006, Lewis guest starred in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Munch's uncle then he also made several appearances on Entertainment Tonight in 2008.
In 2012, Lewis directed a musical theatre version of The Nutty Professor at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville from July 31 to August 19. In Brazil, Lewis appeared in Till Luck Do Us Part 2 (2013), a sequel to the 2012 film Till Luck Do Us Part. In 2014, Lewis was guest on The Talk and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He next starred in a small role in the crime drama The Trust (2016).
Lewis made a comeback in a serious lead role in Max Rose which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. (2016), his final solo film. In September 2016, Lewis gave an interview on WTF with Marc Maron.
In December of that year, he expressed interest in making another movie. Lewis' last appearance was a guest spot on Jerry Seinfeld's show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which will air posthumously in 2018.
During production of The Bellboy, Lewis pioneered the technique of using video cameras and multiple closed circuit monitors, which allowed him to review his performance instantly. This was necessary since he was acting as well as directing. His techniques and methods of video assist, documented in his book and his USC class, enabled him to complete most of his films on time and under budget since reshoots could take place immediately instead of waiting for the dailies.
Lewis stated he worked with the head of Sony to develop the prototype. While he popularized the practice, and was instrumental in its development, he did not hold a patent. This practice is now commonplace in filmmaking.
Starting in 1967, Lewis taught a film directing class at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for a number of years. His students included George Lucas, whose friend Steven Spielberg sometimes sat in on classes. Lewis screened Spielberg's early film Amblin' and told his students, "That's what filmmaking is all about." The class covered all topics related to filmmaking, including pre and post production, marketing and distribution, and filming comedy with rhythm and timing. His book The Total Film Maker (1971), was based on 480 hours of his class lectures.
While Lewis was popular in France for his duo films with partner Dean Martin and his solo comedy films, his reputation and stature increased after the Paramount contract, when he began to exert total control over all aspects of his films. His involvement in directing, writing, editing and art direction coincided with the rise of auteur theory in French intellectual film criticism and the French New Wave movement. He earned consistent praise from French critics in the influential magazines Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif, where he was hailed as an ingenious auteur.
His singular mise-en-scene, and skill behind the camera, were aligned with Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Satyajit Ray. Appreciated too, was the complexity of his also being in front of the camera. The new French criticism viewed cinema as an art form unto itself, and comedy as part of this art. Lewis is then fitted into a historical context and seen as not only worthy of critique, but as an innovator and satirist of his time.Jean-Pierre Coursodon states in a 1975 Film Comment article, "The merit of the French critics, auteurist excesses notwithstanding, was their willingness to look at what Lewis was doing as a filmmaker for what it was, rather than with some preconception of what film comedy should be."
Not yet curricula at universities or art schools, Cinema Studies and Film theory were avant-garde in early 1960s America. Mainstream movie reviewers such as Pauline Kael, were dismissive of auteur theory, and others, seeing only absurdist comedy, criticized Lewis for his ambition and "castigated him for his self-indulgence" and egotism. "The total film-maker, so admired in France, made Hollywood uncomfortable, since the system has always operated otherwise."
Appreciation of Lewis became a misunderstood stereotype about "the French", and it was often the object of jokes in American pop culture. "That Americans can't see Jerry Lewis' genius is bewildering," says N. T. Binh, a French film magazine critic. Such bewilderment was the basis of the book Why the French Love Jerry Lewis. In a lingering perception that French audiences adored him, Lewis stated in interviews he was more popular in Germany, Japan and Australia.
Throughout his adult life and career, Lewis was a world-renowned humanitarian and "number one volunteer" who supported fundraising for research into muscular dystrophy. From 1956 to 2011, he served as national chairman of and spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (formerly, the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America).
As early as December 1951, Lewis, with his partner Martin, made appeals for MDA at the conclusion of The Colgate Comedy Hour. He began hosting New York area telethons to benefit the organization from 1952 to 1959, thus leading to the live annual Labor Day event of The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (also referred to as Jerry Lewis Extra Special Special, Jerry Lewis Super Show and Jerry Lewis Stars Across America), which ran from 1966 to 2010. For over half a century, he raised an estimated $2.6 billion in donations for the cause.
In 1977, Lewis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. MDA's website states, "Jerry's love, passion and brilliance are woven throughout this organization, which he helped build from the ground up. Lewis courted sponsors for MDA, appeared at openings of MDA care and research centers, addressed meetings of civic organizations, volunteers and the MDA Board of Directors, successfully lobbied Congress for federal neuromuscular disease research funds and made countless phone calls and visits to families served by MDA.
During Lewis' lifetime, MDA-funded scientists discovered the causes of most of the diseases in the Muscular Dystrophy Association's program, developing treatments, therapies and standards of care that have allowed many people living with these diseases to live longer and grow stronger." Over 200 research and treatment facilities were built with donations raised by the Jerry Lewis Telethons. In 1998, Lewis' telethon became the first ever to be viewed around the globe via internet simulcast by RealNetworks on MDA's website.
In 2009, Lewis was presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his efforts for MDA. On August 3, 2011, it was announced that Lewis would no longer host the MDA telethons and that he was no longer associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Then on May 1, 2015, it was announced that in view of "the new realities of television viewing and philanthropic giving", the telethon was being discontinued.
In early 2016, Lewis broke a five-year silence by making an online video statement for the organization on its website in honor of its rebranding marking his first (and as it turned out, his final) appearance in support of MDA since his last telethon in 2010 and the end of his tenure as national chairman in 2011.
In 1969, Lewis agreed to lend his name to "Jerry Lewis Cinemas", offered by National Cinema Corporation as a franchise business opportunity for those interested in theatrical movie exhibition. Jerry Lewis Cinemas stated that their theaters could be operated by a staff of as few as two with the aid of automation and support provided by the franchiser in booking film and other aspects of film exhibition. A forerunner of the smaller rooms typical of later multi-screen complexes, a Jerry Lewis Cinema was billed in franchising ads as a "mini-theatre" with a seating capacity of between 200 and 350. In addition to Lewis's name, each Jerry Lewis Cinemas bore a sign with a cartoon logo of Lewis in profile. Initially 158 territories were franchised, with a buy-in fee of $10,000 or $15,000 depending on the territory, for what was called an "individual exhibitor".
For $50,000, Jerry Lewis Cinemas offered an opportunity known as an "area directorship", in which investors controlled franchising opportunities in a territory as well as their own cinemas. The success of the chain was hampered by a policy of only booking second-run, family-friendly films. Eventually the policy was changed, and the Jerry Lewis Cinemas were allowed to show more competitive movies. But after a decade the chain failed and both Lewis and National Cinema Corporation declared bankruptcy in 1980.
In 1990, Lewis wrote and directed a short film for UNICEF's How Are The Children? anthology exploring the rights of children worldwide. The eight-minute segment, titled Boy, was about a young white child in a black world and being subjected to quiet, insidious racism, and outright racist bullying.
In 2010, Lewis met with seven-year-old Lochie Graham, who shared his idea for "Jerry's House", a place for vulnerable and traumatized children. Lewis and Graham entered into a joint partnership for an Australian and a U.S.-based charity and began raising funds to build the facility in Melbourne, Australia.
On September 12, 2016, Lewis lent his name and star power to Criss Angel's HELP (Heal Every Life Possible) charity event.
Lewis kept a low political profile for many years, having taken advice reportedly given to him by President John F. Kennedy, who told him "Don't get into anything political. Don't do that because they will usurp your energy". Nevertheless, he campaigned and performed on behalf of both JFK and Robert F. Kennedy. Lewis was a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. For his 1957 NBC special, Lewis held his ground when southern affiliates objected to his stated friendship with Sammy Davis Jr. In a 1971 Movie Mirror magazine article, Lewis came out against the Vietnam War, when his son, Gary, returned from service traumatized. He vowed to leave the country rather than send another of his sons.
Lewis once stated political speeches should not be at the Oscars. "I think we are the most dedicated industry in the world. And I think that we have to present ourselves that night as hard-working, caring and important people to the industry. We need to get more self-respect as an industry". In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, Lewis was asked what he was least proud of, to which he answered, "Politics". Not his politics, but the world's politics - the madness, the destruction, the general lack of respect. He lamented citizens' lack of pride in their country, stating, "President Bush is my president. I will not say anything negative about the president of the United States. I don't do that. And I don't allow my children to do that. Likewise when I come to England don't you do any jokes about 'Mum' to me. That is the Queen of England, you moron." "Do you know how tough a job it is to be the Queen of England?"
In a December 2015 interview on EWTN's World Over with Raymond Arroyo, Lewis expressed opposition to the United States letting in Syrian refugees, saying "No one has worked harder for the human condition than I have, but they're not part of the human condition if 11 guys in that group of 10,000 are ISIS. How can I take that chance?" In the same interview, he criticized President Barack Obama for not being prepared for ISIS, while expressing support for Donald Trump, saying he would make a good president because he was a good "showman". He also added that he admired Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Lewis had a number of illnesses and addictions related both to aging and a back injury sustained in a comedic pratfall from a piano while performing at the Sands Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip on March 20, 1965. The accident almost left him paralyzed. In its aftermath, Lewis became addicted to the painkiller Percodan for thirteen years. He said he had been off the drug since 1978. In April 2002, Lewis had a Medtronic "Synergy" neurostimulator implanted in his back, which helped reduce the discomfort. He was one of the company's leading spokesmen. In the 2011 documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis, Lewis said he had his first heart attack at age 34 while filming Cinderfella in 1960. In December 1982, he had another heart attack. En route to San Diego from New York City on a cross-country commercial airline flight on June 11, 2006, he had another.
It was discovered that he had pneumonia, as well as a severely damaged heart. He underwent a cardiac catheterization[when?] and two stents were inserted into one of his coronary arteries, which was 90 percent blocked. The surgery resulted in increased blood flow to his heart and allowed him to continue his rebound from earlier lung problems. Having the cardiac catheterization meant canceling several major events from his schedule, but Lewis fully recuperated in a matter of weeks. In 1999, Lewis' Australian tour was cut short when he had to be hospitalized in Darwin with viral meningitis. He was ill for more than five months. It was reported in the Australian press that he had failed to pay his medical bills. However, Lewis maintained that the payment confusion was the fault of his health insurer.
The resulting negative publicity caused him to sue his insurer for US$100 million. Lewis had prostate cancer,type 1 diabetes,pulmonary fibrosis, and a decades-long history of cardiovascular disease. Prednisone treatment in the late 1990s for pulmonary fibrosis resulted in weight gain and a noticeable change in his appearance. In September 2001, Lewis was unable to perform at a planned London charity event at the London Palladium. He was the headlining act, and he was introduced but did not appear. He had suddenly become unwell, apparently with heart problems.
He was subsequently taken to the hospital. Some months thereafter, Lewis began an arduous, months-long therapy that weaned him off prednisone and enabled him to return to work. On June 12, 2012, he was treated and released from a hospital after collapsing from hypoglycemia at a New York Friars Club event. This latest health issue forced him to cancel a show in Sydney. In an October 2016 interview with Inside Edition, Lewis acknowledged that he might not star in any more films, given his advanced age, while admitting, through tears, that he was afraid of dying, as it would leave his wife and daughter alone. In June 2017, Lewis was hospitalized at a Las Vegas hospital for a urinary tract infection.
Lewis died at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at 9:15 a.m. (PDT) on August 20, 2017, at the age of 91. The cause was end-stage cardiac disease and peripheral artery disease. In his will, Lewis left his estate to his second wife of 34 years, SanDee Pitnick, and their daughter, and intentionally excluded his children from his first marriage as well as their descendants.
For almost two decades, from the late '40s to the mid-'60s, Lewis was a virtually unprecedented force in American popular culture. Widely acknowledged as a comic genius, Lewis influenced successive generations of comedians, comedy writers, performers and filmmakers. Often referenced as the bridge from Vaudeville to modern comedy, Carl Reiner wrote after Lewis' death, "All comedians watch other comedians, and every generation of comedians going back to those who watched Jerry on the Colgate Comedy Hour were influenced by Jerry. They say that mankind goes back to the first guy...which everyone tries to copy. In comedy that guy was Jerry Lewis."
Lewis "single-handedly created a style of humor that was half anarchy, half excruciation. Even comics who never took a pratfall in their careers owe something to the self-deprecation Jerry introduced into American show business."  His self-deprecating humor can be found in Larry David or David Letterman.
Lewis' comedy style was physically uninhibited, expressive, and potentially volatile. He was known especially for his distinctive voice, facial expressions, pratfalls, and physical stunts. His improvisations and ad-libbing, especially in nightclubs and early television, were revolutionary among performers. It was "marked by a raw, edgy energy that would distinguish him within the comedy landscape."  Will Sloan, of Flavorwire wrote, "In the late '40s and early '50s, nobody had ever seen a comedian as wild as Jerry Lewis." Placed in the context of the conservative era, his antics were radical and liberating, paving the way for future comedians Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, Paul Reubens, and Jim Carrey. Carrey wrote: "Through his comedy, Jerry would stretch the boundaries of reality so far that it was an act of anarchy...I learned from Jerry", and "I am because he was".
Acting the bumbling and stammering 'everyman', Lewis used tightly choreographed, sophisticated sight gags, physical routines, verbal double-talk and malapropisms. "You cannot help but notice Lewis' incredible sense of control in regards to performing--they may have looked at times like the ravings of a madman but his best work had a genuine grace and finesse behind it that would put most comedic performers of any era to shame." They are "choreographed as exactly as any ballet, each movement and gesture coming on natural beats and conforming to the overall rhythmic form which is headed to a spectacular finale: absolute catastrophe."
Lewis' work, specifically his self-directed films, have warranted steady reappraisal. Richard Brody in The New Yorker said, Lewis was "one of the most original, inventive, ...profound directors of the time." and "one of the most skilled and original comic performers, verbal and physical, ever to appear on screen." Film critic and film curator for the Museum of Modern Art, Dave Kehr wrote in The New York Times of Lewis' "fierce creativity", "the extreme formal sophistication of his direction" and, Lewis was "....one of the great American filmmakers."
"Lewis was an explosive experimenter with a dazzling skill, and an audacious, innovatory flair for the technique of the cinema. He knew how to frame and present his own adrenaline-fuelled, instinctive physical comedy for the camera."
Lewis was in the forefront in the transition to independent filmmaking, which came to be known as New Hollywood in the late 1960s. Writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2005, screenwriter David Weddle lauded Lewis' audacity in 1959 "daring to declare his independence from the studio system." No other comedic star, with the exception of Chaplin in the silent era, dared to direct himself. "Not only would Lewis' efforts as a director pave the way for the likes of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, but it would reveal him to be uncommonly skilled in that area as well." "Most screen comedies until that time were not especially cinematic--they tended to plop down the camera where it could best capture the action and that was it. Lewis, on the other hand, was interested in exploring the possibilities of the medium by utilizing the tools he had at his disposal in formally innovative and oftentimes hilarious ways."  "In Lewis' work the way the scene is photographed is an integral part of the joke. His purposeful selection of lenses, for example, expands and contracts space to generate laughs that aren't necessarily inherent in the material, and he often achieves his biggest effects via what he leaves off screen, not just visually but structurally." 
As a director, Lewis advanced the film comedy genre with innovations in the areas of fragmented narrative, experimental use of music and sound technology, and near surrealist use of color and art direction. This prompted his peer, filmmaker Jean Luc Godard to proclaim, "Jerry Lewis...is the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn't falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles. ...Lewis is the only one today who's making courageous films. He's been able to do it because of his personal genius".Jim Hemphill for American Cinematheque wrote, "They are films of ambitious visual and narrative experimentation, provocative and sometimes conflicted commentaries on masculinity in post-war America, and unsettling self-critiques and analyses of the performer's neuroses."
Intensely personal and original, Lewis' films were groundbreaking in their use of dark humor for psychological exploration.Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times said, "The idea of comedians getting under the skin and tapping into their deepest, darkest selves is no longer especially novel, but it was far from a universally accepted notion when Lewis first took the spotlight. Few comedians before him had so brazenly turned arrested development into art, or held up such a warped fun house mirror to American identity in its loudest, ugliest, vulgarest excesses. Fewer still had advanced the still-radical notion that comedy doesn't always have to be funny, just fearless, in order to strike a nerve".
Pre 1960, Hollywood comedies were screwball or farce. Lewis, from his earliest 'home movies, such as How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border, made in his playhouse in the early 1950s, was one of the first to introduce satire as a full-length film. This "sharp eyed" satire continued in his mature work, commenting on the cult of celebrity, the machinery of 'fame', and "the dilemma of being true to oneself while also fitting into polite society." Stephen Dalton in The Hollywood Reporter wrote, Lewis had "an agreeably bitter streak, offering self-lacerating insights into celebrity culture which now look strikingly modern. Even post-modern in places." Speaking of The King of Comedy, "More contemporary satirists like Garry Shandling, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais owe at least some of their self-deconstructing chops to Lewis' generously unappetizing turn in Scorsese's cult classic."
Lewis was an early master of deconstruction to enhance comedy. From the first Comedy Hours he exposed the artifice of on stage performance by acknowledging the lens, sets, malfunctioning props, failed jokes, and tricks of production. As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote: Lewis had "the impulse to deconstruct and even demolish the fictional "givens" of any particular sketch, including those that he might have dreamed up himself, a kind of perpetual auto-destruction that becomes an essential part of his filmmaking as he steadily gains more control over the writing and direction of his features." His self directed films abound in behind-the-scene reveals, demystifying movie-making. Daniel Fairfax writes in Deconstructing Jerry: Lewis as a Director, "Lewis deconstructs the very functioning of the joke itself"....quoting Chris Fujiwara, "The Patsy is a film so radical that it makes comedy out of the situation of a comedian who isn't funny." The final scene of The Patsy is famous for revealing to the audience the movie as a movie, and Lewis as actor/director. Lewis wrote in The Total Filmmaker, his belief in breaking the fourth wall, actors looking directly into the camera, despite industry norms. More contemporary comedies such as The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Office continue this method.
Robert DeNiro and Sandra Bernhard (both of whom starred with Lewis in The King of Comedy) reflected on his death, Bernhard said, "It was one of the great experiences of my career, he was tough but one of a kind". De Niro said, "Jerry was a pioneer in comedy and film. And he was a friend. I was fortunate to have seen him a few times over the past couple of years. Even at 91, he didn't miss a beat... or a punchline. You'll be missed." There was also a New York Friars Club roast in honor of Lewis with Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer. Martin Scorsese recalls working with him on The King of Comedy, "It was like watching a virtuoso pianist at the keyboard". Lewis was the subject of a documentary Jerry Lewis: Method to the Madness.
Peter Chelsom, director of Funny Bones wrote, "Working with him was a masterclass in comic acting - and in charm. From the outset he was generous." "There's a very thin line between a talent for being funny and being a great actor. Jerry Lewis epitomised that. Jerry embodied the term "funny bones": a way of differentiating between comedians who tell funny and those who are funny."  Director Daniel Noah recalling his relationship with Lewis during production of Max Rose wrote, "He was kind and loving and patient and limitlessly generous with his genius. He was unbelievably complicated and shockingly self-aware."
There have been numerous retrospectives of Lewis' films in the U.S. and abroad, most notably Jerry Lewis: A Film and Television Retrospective at Museum of the Moving Image, the 2013 Viennale, the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival, The Innovator: Jerry Lewis at Paramount, at American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, and Happy Birthday Mr. Lewis: The Kid Turns 90, at MOMA. Lewis is one of the few performers to have touched every aspect of 20th Century American entertainment, appearing in vaudeville, burlesque, the 'borsht belt', nightclubs, radio, Classical Hollywood Cinema (The 'Golden Age'), Las Vegas, television: variety, drama, sit-coms and talk shows, Broadway and independent films.
On August 21, 2017, multiple hotel marquees on the Las Vegas Strip honored Lewis with a coordinated video display of images of his career as a Las Vegas performer and resident. From 1949, as part of Martin and Lewis, and from 1956 as a solo, Lewis was a casino showroom headliner, playing numerous dates over the decades. It was also the home for the annual Labor Day MDA telethon.
In The Simpsons, the character of Professor Frink is based on Lewis' Julius Kelp from The Nutty Professor. In Family Guy, Peter recreates Lewis' 'Chairman of the Board' scene from The Errand Boy. Comedian, actor and friend of Lewis, Martin Short satirized him on the series SCTV in the sketches "The Nutty Lab Assistant", "Martin Scorsese presents Jerry Lewis Live on the Champs Elysees!", "The Tender Fella", and "Scenes From an Idiots Marriage", as well as on Saturday Night Lives "Celebrity Jeopardy!". Also on SNL, the Martin and Lewis reunion on the 1976 MDA Telethon is reported by Chevy Chase on 'Weekend Update'. Comedians Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo both parodied Lewis when he hosted SNL in 1983.
Comedian and actor Jim Carrey satirized Lewis on In Living Color in the sketch "Jheri's Kids Telethon". Carrey had an uncredited cameo playing Lewis in the series Buffalo Bill on the episode "Jerry Lewis Week". He also played Lewis, with impersonator Rich Little as Dean Martin, on stage. Actor Sean Hayes portrayed Lewis in the made-for-TV movie Martin and Lewis, with Jeremy Northam as Dean Martin. Actor Kevin Bacon plays the Lewis character in the 2005 film Where The Truth Lies, based on a fictionalized version of Martin and Lewis. In the satiric novel, Funny Men, about singer/wild comic double act, the character Sigmund "Ziggy" Blissman, is based on Lewis.
John Saleeby, writer for National Lampoon has a humor piece "Ten Things You Should Know About Jerry Lewis". In the animated cartoon Popeye's 20th Anniversary, Martin and Lewis are portrayed on the dais. In 1998, The MTV animated show Celebrity Deathmatch had a clay-animated fight to the death between Dean Martin and Lewis. In a 1975 re-issue of MAD Magazine the contents of Lewis' wallet is satirized in their on-going feature "Celebrities' Wallets".
Lewis, and Martin & Lewis, as himself or his films, have been referenced by directors of differing genres spanning decades, including, Blake Edwards's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960), Andy Warhol's Soap Opera (1964), John Frankenheimer's I Walk the Line (1970), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), Randal Kleiser's Grease (1978), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's In a Year of 13 Moons (1978), Quentin Tarantino's Four Rooms (1995), Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002), Hitchcock (2012), Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), Jay Roach's Trumbo (2015), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017).
Similarly, varied musicians have mentioned Lewis in song lyrics including, Ice Cube, The Dead Milkmen, Queen Latifah, and Frank Zappa. The hip hop music band Beastie Boys have an unreleased single "The Jerry Lewis", which they mention, and danced to, on stage in Asheville, North Carolina in 2009. In 1986, the comedy radio show Dr. Demento aired a parody of "Rock Me Amadeus", "Rock Me Jerry Lewis".
Apple IOS 10 includes an auto-text emoji for 'professor' with a Lewis lookalike portrayal from The Nutty Professor. ? The word "flaaaven!", with its many variations and rhymes, is a Lewis-ism often used as a misspoken word or a person's mis-pronounced name. In a 2016 episode of the podcast West Wing Weekly, Joshua Malina is heard saying "flaven" when trying to remember a character's correct last name. Lewis' signature catchphrase "Hey, Laaady!" is ubiquitously used by comedians and laypersons alike.
Most sources, including his 1982 autobiography, Jerry Lewis: In Person, give his birth name as Joseph Levitch. But Shawn Levy, author of the exhaustive 1996 biography King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis, unearthed a birth record that gave his first name as Jerome.
90-minute documentary, 1996, narrated by Alan King
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