Martin And Lewis: Inside Their Rocky Comedy Partnership, 20-Year Estrangement, And Surprising Reunion

Jerry Lewis has died at age 91. The comedy legend, best known for his partnership with singer Dean Martin as well as his work as chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, passed away at his home in Las Vegas, on Aug. 20, 2017, according to Variety.

While Jerry Lewis’ annual MDA telethon was a Labor Day staples for decades, longtime fans also remember his iconic comedy career with Dean Martin. The duo met in 1945 and by the early 1950s, they were comedy’s hottest act, dominating radio, television, and film.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis hosted an NBC radio show from 1949 until 1953, and they made 17 movies together, including My Friend Irma, That’s My Boy, You’re Never Too Young, and Hollywood or Bust. Martin and Lewis even had their own comic book series, The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, which lasted for 40 issues, from 1952 to 1957.

But 10 years to the day of their first official gig together, Martin quit the act on July 25, 1956, amid difficult working relations and escalating feuds with his former partner. Even the popular comic book series was affected and was renamed The Adventures of Jerry Lewis for issues #41-124.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis White City during the World Middleweight Championship of 1953.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis remained estranged for 20 years, but in 1976 Martin blindsided Lewis by showing up at his MDA telethon. According to Vanity Fair, Jerry hated surprises but he got a doozy on Sept. 5, 1976, when Dean Martin strolled on stage after mutual pal Frank Sinatra told Jerry he had a “friend” who wanted to come out and say hi.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis embraced and joked on stage for the first time in two decades, receiving a standing ovation that lasted a full minute, which is an eternity on live TV.

“So, how ya been?” Jerry asked his former partner. “You know, there was all those rumors about our breaking up—and then when I started the show and you weren’t here, I believed it.”

Jerry’s son, Garry Lewis, told Vanity Fair his father later told him he didn’t know what to do when he saw Dean Martin walking on stage.

“He told me his mind was going a million miles an hour,” Gary Lewis revealed, saying his father didn’t know if he should joke with Dean Martin or not.

The reunion of Martin and Lewis made international headlines, but Martin downplayed it to his daughter, Deanna, telling her “it was OK.” While Deanna was unsure if her father kept in touch with Jerry Lewis after that fateful night in 1976, Lewis quietly attended the funeral of Dean’s son, Dean Paul, who died in a plane crash in 1987.

“He didn’t say anything; he stayed in the back,” Deanna Martin revealed of Jerry Lewis. “It was very respectful.”

Jerry also surprised Dean at his 72nd birthday with a cake at a Bally’s Hotel and Casino Show in 1989, reportedly saying, “Why we broke up I’ll never know.” That would be Martin and Lewis’ last public appearance together. Dean Martin died on Christmas Day, 1995.

After news of Jerry Lewis’ death was announced, nostalgic fans took to Twitter to say Martin and Lewis have reunited once again.

[Featured Image by MDA/Getty Images]