Jerry Lewis, who entertained audiences for decades with his slapstick comedy, is dead at 91!
Born Joseph Levitch in Newark, N.J., Lewis made his debut singing, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” at a hotel.
He began landing bookings at hotels at age 15 for his comic pantomiming and soon crossed paths with up-and-coming singer Dean Martin.
Lewis famously teamed with the future “Rat-Pack” member as a comedy duo, performing across the country and acting in films together from 1946 till 1956.
He also began filling rooms in Las Vegas as a solo act where he would perform off and on into his late-80s.
After breaking up, Lewis became more involved in acting, writing, producing and directing films such as, “The Ladies Man,” “The Errand Boy,” “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor.” One film, “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” spawned a million-selling single which led him to record several albums on the Decca Records label.
He also began hosting telethons throughout the 1950s to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association and was a mainstay in that role every Labor Day Weekend for over 40 years, ending in 2010. His efforts helped raise over 2 billion dollars in donations.
Over time, Lewis gained a larger following overseas, especially in France, where his brand of humor became more accepted by foreign audiences.
In the 1970s Lewis battled bankruptcy, painkiller addiction and numerous health ailments. A four-pack-a-day smoking habit led to double-bypass heart surgery in 1982.
In 2007, he was forced to apologize for making a gay slur on camera during the telethon and continued making racist jokes into his ’90s.
He stayed active in the business towards the end. 2012 saw him bring a musical adaptation of “The Nutty Professor” to the stage with a brief run in Nashville and the following year Lewis starred in his final film, “Max Rose,” playing a jazz pianist who had become a widower.
He found himself back in the headlines that year when scenes from an unreleased film, “The Day the Clown Cried,” mysteriously surfaced on YouTube.
Lewis is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, and an adopted daughter. He also had six sons with first wife Patti Palmer, whom he later divorced.
Lewis is the subject of the 2016 documentary, “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown.”