Comedy legend Jerry Lewis has died at the age of 91. He was known for his style of slapstick comedy, starring in over 50 films. His famous credits include The Nutty Professor and The Bellboy. Jerry Lewis’s credits didn’t stop in movies. He was also known for his philanthropy work. He launched the telethon for muscular dystrophy that aired every Labor Day weekend. By the late 2000s, he raised over $2.5 billion.
Jerry Lewis was born in 1922 to show biz parents. He’s been entertaining since the age of five when he sang “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” at the Broscht Belt hotel. He performed at a burlesque house by the age of 15. As he grew older, his routines included solo routines and performances as a duo with Dean Martin.
Martin appeared with Lewis on his telethon and the two made a series of comedy movies. These films all grossed at least $5 million, a big success. Dean and Martin had their problems though, with disputes over money. They last appeared together in 1956 at the famous Copacabana. By then, they each had successful solo careers as well, so their parting ways only ended their partnership.
Martin and Lewis reunited in 1976 when Dean Martin made a surprise appearance at Lewis’s muscular dystrophy telethon. Martin died in 1995.
Jerry Lewis’s career was not free of controversy. Lewis’s comedy included many jokes considered offensive to today’s audiences, and he always shared his right-wing views on politics. He didn’t let changing times affect his comedy style, and at times he was forced to apologize for jokes targeting gays, minorities, and women, most notably an on-camera gay slur during one of his telethons in 2007.
Jerry Lewis’s slapstick comedy style declined in popularity by the early 1980s, but by then he was trying his hand at directing, with little success. He also attempted a variety show that failed during the 1970s. He was forced to file bankruptcy in 1972. His financial troubles were further impacted by his health problems. He gave up a four-pack-a-day smoking habit following double bypass heart surgery in 1982.
Despite his dip, Jerry Lewis continued acting, with his last credit being Max Rose in 2013. During the early 2000s, he appeared in guest spots on popular television shows such as The Simpsons and Law and Order: SVU. He also performed regularly in Las Vegas.
Lewis was married twice and had a total of seven children. His son, Joseph, died of an overdose in 2009. Gary Lewis, another one of his sons, had a rock career.
His family reported that he died of natural causes.
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