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Jerry Lewis

Jerry LewisAKA Jerome Levitch

Born: 16-Mar-1926
Birthplace: Newark, NJ
Died: 20-Aug-2017
Location of death: Las Vegas, NV
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Comic, Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Muscular Dystrophy Association

Jerry Lewis is the son of vaudeville performers, and performed comedy professionally since he was five years old, in his parents' routines. He started performing stand-up comedy at the age of 15.

He was 20 when he met crooner Dean Martin and they formed a song-and-dance act. They meshed almost instantly, and Martin's playboy and Lewis's nimrod soon made them very popular. By the late 1940s, they were one of the most successful acts in show biz, earning $5,000 a week at New York's Copacabana Club. Martin & Lewis had a hit radio show on NBC from 1949-1953, and made 16 movies together, beginning with My Friend Irma in 1949 and ending with Hollywood or Bust in 1956, by which time they hated each other.

Lewis went on to make many more movies without Martin, and remained a viable movie star for another decade, but most of his solo comedies have not aged well. Without the serious sexiness of Martin, there was nothing to rein in Lewis's silly tendencies. The wacky googly-eyed slapstick of Cinderfella or Nutty Professor is mostly considered kid stuff by today's audiences. The noteworthy exception, of course, is in France, where Lewis's films have been considered the pinnacle of film comedy. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1984. Jean-Luc Godard described Lewis as "much better than Chaplin and Keaton." French film critic Robert Benayoun wrote that Lewis "is the foremost comic artist of the time. He corresponds to his era, both reflecting and criticizing our civilization."

Lewis had three different TV series, all called The Jerry Lewis Show -- a live two-hour comedy-variety show on ABC in 1963, a conventional one-hour comedy-variety show on NBC from 1965-67, and an almost-immediately cancelled talk show in 1984. There was also a Saturday morning cartoon show called Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down? in the early 1970s, featuring animated versions of various Lewis characters from his movies. Lewis got the royalties and was credited as executive producer, but David L. Lander did all the 'Jerry Lewis' voices.

Lewis was a founding member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1949, and hosted its annual telethons to fight MD from 1966-2011. He always said that he had a strong personal motivation to work against MD -- presumably a friend or family member with MD. In recent decades, as Lewis's career waned, most Americans saw him only once annually, during the telethon. His heartstring-tug-a-thons raised more than a billion dollars, but a large contingent of MD patients and their friends and families strenuously objected to Lewis's "pity approach" to fundraising.

"The pity Lewis and the telethon promote hurts all of us in the disability community," says Taylor Hines. "It encourages others to see us as pathetic, childlike and useless and thus interferes with our quest to obtain real equality and respect in society. We must speak out for ourselves... or Jerry Lewis will speak for us." Another activist, Harriet McBryde Johnson, wrote, "I encounter pity as a part of daily life... People who know me generally get over their pity pretty fast. They come to learn that a life on wheels isn't necessarily miserable, and that most of what they've heard about 'Jerry's kids' is a lie."

When asked to respond to this criticism on CBS Sunday Morning, Lewis said, "Pity? You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!" Still, as the criticisms accumulated, he was eased out as the telethon's host and as MDA's National Chairman in 2011, reportedly against his will. In his absence, the telethon's success dwindled, and the annual televised fundraiser was cancelled after 2014.

His years of pratfalls, and one particularly brutal backflip performed in Vegas in 1965, have left Lewis with perpetual back pain. For at least several years, he was addicted to painkillers. "I had pain every day for 37 years," he says. "The pain was under everything -- the telethons, the concerts, the appearances. When I was on stage, the adrenaline was overpowering. But after I took the last bow, I had to be helped to the dressing room. The pain was that severe." Lewis is feeling better now, and never misses an opportunity to plug the Medtronic neurostimulation system, which has been implanted under his skin since 2002. Asked whether he supports the legalization of marijuana to alleviate patients' pain, Lewis said, "I never do anything about politics because I do comedy already."

Gary Benson, a stalker who pursued Lewis for years, was found dead in his jail cell in 2001, while awaiting trial for violating a protective order that prohibited him from contacting Lewis.

In 1971, Lewis directed and starred in The Day the Clown Cried, an alleged comedy about a German clown in a Nazi concentration camp, whose job entails leading Jewish children into the gas chambers. Not surprisingly, the film was never released. Comedian Harry Shearer said that he once saw the film: "With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation or the concept is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. Oh My God! that's all you can say." Lewis has reportedly given a print to the U.S. Library of Congress, with the stipulation that it may not be screened before 2025.

Father: Danny Lewis (vaudeville performer)
Mother: Rae Lewis (dancer)
Wife: Patti (Palmer) Lewis (m. 30-Apr-1945, div. 1980)
Son: Gary Lewis (singer, ...and the Playboys, b. 31-Jul-1945, with Palmer)
Son: Ronald Lewis (b. 1949, adopted 1950, with Palmer)
Son: Scott Lewis (b. 1956, with Palmer)
Son: Christopher Lewis (b. 1957, Lewis' webmaster)
Son: Anthony Lewis (b. 1959)
Wife: SanDee (Pitman) Lewis (m. 13-Feb-1983)
Daughter: Danielle Lewis (b. Mar-1992)

    High School: (dropped out)

    Muscular Dystrophy Association National Chairman (1954-2011)
    Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity
    French Legion of Honor (1984)
    Kentucky Colonel
    Oscar (honorary) Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (2009)
    Heart Attack 2006
    Asteroid Namesake 11548 Jerrylewis
    Risk Factors: Prostate Cancer, Meningitis, Diabetes, Obesity, Former Smoker

    Cracking Up (1983)
    Hardly Working (31-Jan-1980)
    The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
    Which Way to the Front? (Jul-1970)
    One More Time (May-1970)
    The Big Mouth (12-Jul-1967)
    Three on a Couch (Mar-1966)
    The Family Jewels (1-Jul-1965)
    The Patsy (2-Aug-1964)
    The Nutty Professor (4-Jun-1963)
    The Errand Boy (28-Nov-1961)
    The Ladies' Man (28-Jun-1961)
    The Bellboy (20-Jul-1960)

    The Trust (13-Mar-2016)
    Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! (2009) [VOICE]
    Funny Bones (24-Mar-1995)
    Arizona Dream (6-Jan-1993) · Leo Sweetie
    Mr. Saturday Night (12-Sep-1992) · Himself
    Cookie (2-Aug-1989)
    The King of Comedy (18-Feb-1983)
    Cracking Up (1983)
    Slapstick (of Another Kind) (1982)
    Hardly Working (31-Jan-1980)
    The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
    Which Way to the Front? (Jul-1970)
    Hook, Line & Sinker (7-May-1969) · Peter Ingersoll
    Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (19-Jun-1968) · George Lester
    The Big Mouth (12-Jul-1967) · Gerald Clamson
    Way... Way Out (26-Oct-1966)
    Three on a Couch (Mar-1966) · Christopher Pride, etc.
    Boeing Boeing (22-Dec-1965) · Robert Reed
    The Family Jewels (1-Jul-1965)
    The Disorderly Orderly (16-Dec-1964)
    The Patsy (2-Aug-1964)
    Who's Minding the Store? (28-Nov-1963) · Norman Phiffier
    The Nutty Professor (4-Jun-1963) · Professor Julius Kelp
    It's Only Money (21-Nov-1962)
    The Errand Boy (28-Nov-1961) · Morty S. Tashman
    The Ladies' Man (28-Jun-1961) · Herbert H. Heebert
    Cinderfella (16-Dec-1960) · Cinderfella
    The Bellboy (20-Jul-1960) · Stanley
    Visit to a Small Planet (4-Feb-1960)
    Don't Give Up the Ship (3-Jul-1959)
    The Geisha Boy (2-Nov-1958) · Gilbert Wooley
    Rock-a-Bye Baby (23-Jul-1958)
    The Sad Sack (27-Nov-1957)
    The Delicate Delinquent (6-Jun-1957) · Sidney L. Pythias
    Hollywood or Bust (6-Dec-1956) · Malcolm Smith
    Pardners (25-Jul-1956)
    Artists and Models (7-Nov-1955)
    You're Never Too Young (25-Aug-1955)
    3 Ring Circus (25-Dec-1954)
    Living It Up (23-Jul-1954)
    Money From Home (31-Dec-1953)
    The Caddy (10-Aug-1953)
    Scared Stiff (27-Apr-1953)
    The Stooge (4-Feb-1953) · Theodore Rogers
    Jumping Jacks (11-Jun-1952) · Hap Smith
    Sailor Beware (31-Jan-1952)
    That's My Boy (31-May-1951)
    At War with the Army (13-Dec-1950) · Pfc. Korwin
    My Friend Irma Goes West (26-Jun-1950)
    My Friend Irma (16-Aug-1949)

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