Jerry Lewis, an iconic film funnyman both as a partner with actor-crooner Dean Martin and solo performer, as well as a champion fundraiser to fight muscular dystrophy, has passed away at age 91. Lewis reportedly died of natural causes at 9:15 a.m. at his home in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas Journal Review reporter John Katsilometes broke the story, citing a statement in a tweet that Lewis died. According to THR, Lewis had suffered a number of ailments throughout the years, including open-heart surgery in 1983, prostate cancer surgery in 1992, treatment for prescription drugs in 2003 and a heart attack in 2006. He had also been a longtime sufferer of pulmonary fibrosis.
Jerry Lewis was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926, to Daniel and Rachel Levitch in Newark, New Jersey. When he became a performer, Joseph took the surname Lewis, which was also the stage name of his Vaudeviller performer father. He reportedly started performing with his parents at the Catskills Mountains in New York at age 5 under the name Joey Lewis, but as he grew older changed his name to Jerry in order to avoid confusion with the legendary boxer Joe Louis.
Lewis first rose to prominence as the comedic partner to the straight man Dean Martin, and performed in nightclubs, radio and on television before their eventual career in films. Their debut as the iconic Martin and Lewis comedy team on film began in 1950 with At War with the Army and spanned over 15 films that ended with Hollywood or Bust in 1956. The duo was so popular that DC published the comic book series The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, which ran from 1952 to 1957 (which was followed by DC’s The Adventures of Jerry Lewis comic book series from 1957 to 1971).
Lewis found even more success as a solo actor, starring in such classics as The Sad Sack, The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella, The Errand Boy and perhaps his best known movie, The Nutty Professor, where he played a nerdy professor who concocts a formula to turn himself into the suave playboy Buddy Love. Lewis also courted controversial material, such as when he played a German circus clown imprisoned by Nazis who led Jewish children to their deaths in the 1972 drama The Day the Clown Cried, which Lewis thought was so bad it was never released in theaters.
In addition to multiple film and TV roles over the years (he even had guest appearances on such classics as Batman and The Simpsons), Lewis established himself as a major humanitarian and philanthropist as national chairman of and spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and emceed an annual Labor Day telethon. His 50 years of work with the MDA led to a nomination for a Nobel Prize, and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (an honorary Oscar) in 2009. Lewis last film appearance came in 2016 in a small supporting role in the Nicolas Cage-Elijah Wood crime thriller The Trust.
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