“Very sad to report entertainment legend #JerryLewis has died today at 9:15 a.m. at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.” Thus read a tweet earlier today by John Katsilometes, a columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Lewis, who died of natural causes, “turned himself into an American entertainment institution, first as a maniacal slapstick comedian and then as the 45-year host of tear-jerking annual TV telethons that raised a staggering $2.6 billion for muscular dystrophy research,” writes TV critic David Hinckley in the New York Daily News.
The obituary adds, “Inside the comedy world, Lewis was revered as a genius. The 2011 Lewis documentary “Method to the Madness” featured comedians from Billy Crystal to Eddie Murphy to Chevy Chase praising his singular style of comic lunacy and pathos.”
“‘If you don’t get Jerry Lewis,’ Jerry Seinfeld said in ‘Method,’ ‘you don’t understand comedy.’”
Daily News piece adds, “For American audiences, Lewis’ career had three major segments: his early television, stage and movie collaboration with Dean Martin, which ended in 1956; his solo movie career, which peaked in the 1960s; and his return every Labor Day for the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, which he hosted until 2010.
“His tearful pleas for ‘Jerry’s Kids’ and his rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ became television signatures.”
Notes the Los Angeles Times, with singer Dean Martin, Lewis was “half of what has been called the most successful comedy duo in history.
“They teamed on stage for the first time in 1946, in a boardwalk nightclub in Atlantic City, N.J. Audiences had never seen anything like them: Martin, the handsome Italian crooner with the laid-back style; Lewis, the skinny, animated ‘kid’ with the shrill, adolescent whine.”
The Times story adds, “‘I have been in the business 55 years, and I have never to this day seen an act get more laughs than Martin and Lewis,’ comedian Alan King once recalled in the New Yorker, decades after seeing the team perform at New York City’s fabled Copacabana nightclub in 1948. ‘They didn’t get laughs — it was pandemonium.’”
Lewis and Martin also had a successful run on TV’s ‘Colgate Comedy Hour” in the 1950s.
Some of Lewis’ many movies include: “The Bellhop,” “The Errand Boy,” and “The Nutty Professor” (1963). He also had a critically-acclaimed co-starring role in Martin Scorsese’s 1982 “The King of Comedy.”
To read much more about Lewis’ life and career, please click on the links above, which will take you to pieces in the New York Daily News and Los Angeles Times, respectively.
Here’s a terrific full episode of Martin and Lewis on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” which was presented live on NBC sixty-five years ago in 1952. We found this kinescope on YouTube.