Entertainment Movies Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies aged 91

Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies aged 91

jerry lewis
The legendary comedian Jerry Lewis passed away at his Las Vegas home. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Iconic comedian and director Jerry Lewis has died peacefully at his Las Vegas home at the age of 91.

In a statement from Lewis’ daughter Danielle, the comedian’s manager confirmed that on Sunday morning local time, “he passed peacefully at home of natural causes with his loving family at his side.”

The death of the comedy icon drew tributes from other stars. Said Neil Patrick Harris, “Watching Jerry Lewis on screen makes me laugh harder than anyone.”

Last September, Lewis said he knew he was “running out of time”, telling People magazine, “You don’t think of your age when you’re working and doing what you love.

“I have a lot of stuff to do in not a lot of time.”

To that end, after performing for over 80 years, Lewis never stopped working: “I’m always thinking about future projects and at the same time trying to finish the project you’re in the middle of.”

The thing that “disturbed” him most about getting old? “I can’t take a fall now like I did when I was 20,” he said. “You think about getting old, but when you get there it’s not what you thought it would be.”

He is survived by his second wife SanDee Pitnick, who he wed in 1983, and six children. Asked in 2016 what his greatest achievement is, he said, “It’s always family.”

Lewis first became a star in a duo with Dean Martin, entertaining audiences in nightclubs, on television and in the movies.

His 10-year partnership with Martin saw them star in 16 films and achieve huge box office success.

After their split in 1956, he starred in and directed a slew of hit films such as The Nutty Professor.

Last year he said the movie was his all-time favourite: “It was a love affair from the minute I started to write it.

“And when you fall in love with something, you make it far better than it is.”

Lewis retired from making movies in 1995, but returned as star of the 2016 drama Max Rose.

Other notable successes included Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, in 1983, in which he played a talk show host stalked by Robert de Niro.

In 1995, he became the highest paid star in Broadway history as Mr Applegate in the musical Damn Yankees.

Lewis endured a number of setbacks including open heart surgery, prostate cancer and a bitter separation from one of his five sons.

jerry lewis
For many, Jerry Lewis is best remembered as The Nutty Professor. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Lewis was born Joseph Levitch in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, into a family of Russian Jewish emigres. His father was a vaudeville entertainer while his mother played piano at a radio station.

Following his stage debut at the age of five, he went on to play to great acclaim to audiences on the so-called “Borscht Circuit”, the collection of summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains that were popular with New York’s Jewish families.

By 15, he had refined an act that involved exaggerated miming to records under the name Joey Lewis, which he later changed to Jerry.

He first found national success when he teamed up with up-and-coming crooner Martin. The pair quickly became favourites on the nightclub circuit before branching out with their own radio show.

Their eventual split was not a happy one and the pair did not speak for years afterward.

For more than 50 years, he worked for the American Muscular Dystrophy Association and fronted their annual coast to coast Telethon.

Lewis influenced the careers of generations of comedians, many of whom rushed to offer their condolences.

– With agencies

View Comments