Jerry Lewis (1926-2017)

Posted by: Erin Ward in Notable Deaths | July 12, 2021

Jerry Lewis


March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017


Jerry Lewis, the legendary comedian and one of the most defining entertainers of the 20th century passed away on August 20, 2017, at the age of 91.

As an entertainer, he achieved success in films, television, nightclubs, and Broadway. Mr. Lewis was more than just an entertainer though, he also wrote, produced and directed several successful movies. During his career, he became a comedy icon and influenced generations of comics.

Lewis first shot to stardom as one-half of the Martin & Lewis comedy duo. Alongside legendary singer Dean Martin, the pair became one of the hottest acts of the 1950’s. On stage, Martin crooned while Lewis goofed around. The pair developed a friendship and fondness for each other that would shine through with each performance. Rather than having a prepared routine, many of their shows were ad-libbed with the pair improvising much of their performance, laughing alongside the audience and having fun together on stage.

As their fame grew Martin & Lewis began to appear on popular television programs and released 14 comedy films together over 7 seven years.

The partnership would not last though and the pair went their separate ways after just 10 years together. During their rise, more and more fans began to adore Lewis the funny man rather than Martin the handsome singer. Martin grew tired of playing the straight man and after being cropped out a publicity photo, he ended the partnership and friendship. After the rift, the two would not speak to each other for 20 years.

After the split, Lewis was unsure where to go next with his career.  It was while on vacation in Las Vegas where he would launch a solo career. After being asked to fill in for Judy Garland, Lewis quickly threw together an act that was a massive success. The feedback from the performance was enough to let him know that a solo career was possible.

Lewis began to appear in films again with each becoming more successful than the last. Before the 1960’s was over, he would star in almost two dozen films. This is also the period where he began to write, direct and produce many of his films.

Eventually though, his physical comedy style consisting of pratfalls would take its toll on his body. Lewis’ most significant injury came in 1965 after landing incorrectly and chipping a piece of his spine. The accident resulted in a four-month hospital stay, several back surgeries and an addiction to painkillers. After an intervention from friends and doctors, he eventually overcame the addiction.

As the ‘60s closed, his box office draw began to fade and Lewis stopped acting in films. This was the period when he began to get involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Between 1966 and 2010, every year on Labor Day Weekend, he held the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. During that time, the annual telethon raised 2.45 billion dollars for the cause.

During his lifetime, Lewis was the recipient of many honors and awards. Some of which include the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a lifetime achievement award from the American Comedy Awards, and an Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Lewis has also been recognized for his achievements by some of the greatest comedians of all time. Many of which, were influenced by him during their younger years. Comedians like Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy have said his work was astounding and that he was a genius. Jerry Seinfeld had said, “If you don’t get Jerry Lewis, you don’t really understand comedy, because he is the essence of it”.

Lewis was preceded in death by his son Joseph in 2009. He is survived by his wife and 6 other children.


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