Jerry Lewis—the king of comedy has died at 91. Lewis was an American actor, comedian, singer, film producer, film director, screenwriter and humanitarian. He is known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio. He and Dean Martin were partners as the hit popular comedy duo of Martin and Lewis. Following that success, he was a solo star in motion pictures, nightclubs, television shows, concerts, album recordings and musicals.
Jerry Lewis was born on March 16, 1926, in Newark. 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.
His parents, Danny and Rae Levitch, were entertainers — his father a song-and-dance man, his mother a pianist — who used the name Lewis when they appeared in small-time vaudeville and at Catskills resort hotels. The Levitches were frequently on the road and often left Joey, as he was called, in the care of Rae’s mother and her sisters. The experience of being passed from home to home left Mr. Lewis with an enduring sense of insecurity and a desperate need for attention and affection according to his interview with the New York Times.
Lewis was one of the greatest comedians in the history of comedy. He was known for his slapstick routines and became enormously famous when he teamed up with Dean Martin in 1946.
Jerry starred in more than 50 films, including classics like “My Friend Irma,” “The Nutty Professor,” “The King of Comedy,” “The Bellboy” and “Cinderfella.” Jerry starred in a bunch of TV shows as well, including “The Colgate Comedy Hour” alongside Martin, and lots of others leading into the 21st century. He also starred in the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees.”
Lewis served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosted the live Labor Day broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon for 44 years. Lewis received several awards for lifetime achievements from the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Venice Film Festival, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The actor had in recent years battled various health scares, including heart attacks and prostate cancer. He was most recently hospitalized in June for a urinary tract infection, ahead of a movie shoot.
Lewis married twice; He and ex-wife and former singer Patti Palmer had six sons, of whom died in 2009. Lewis is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, with whom he shares an adopted daughter.
“There’s something about the risk, the courage that it takes to face the risk,” he told The New York Times. “I’m not going to get greatness unless I have to go at it with fear and uncertainty.’’
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