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Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis - 1960s.jpg
Lewis in the 1960s
Joseph Levitch

(1926-03-16)March 16, 1926
Died August 20, 2017(2017-08-20) (aged 91)
Cause of death Cardiovascular disease
Resting place Cremated, ashes given to family
  • Comedian
  • actor
  • singer
  • humanitarian
  • film director
  • film producer
  • screenwriter
Years active 1946–2017
Patti Palmer
(m. 1944; div. 1980)

SanDee Pitnick
(m. 1983)
Children 7, including Gary Lewis
Jerry Lewis signature.svg

Jerry Lewis (born Joseph Levitch, March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, singer, humanitarian, film director, film producer, screenwriter and author. He was known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio and was nicknamed the "King of Comedy". Lewis was one-half of the hit popular comedy duo Martin and Lewis with singer Dean Martin from 1946 to 1956.

After the team split, he became a director and solo star in motion pictures, made appearances in nightclubs, on television shows, in concerts and musicals and sang in music albums and recordings. Outside of his career, Lewis supported fundraising for muscular dystrophy research, serving for 60 years as spokesman for and national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and had also hosted and emceed the live Labor Day weekend broadcast of The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon for 44 years.

One of the most successful performers in show business, with worldwide box office receipts of his films in excess of $800 million, Lewis received global acclaim for his unique ability and style with both comedy and drama. As part of Martin and Lewis and as a solo actor, he was voted Hollywood’s top box-office from 1951 to 1965, in later years as the sole comedian.

Life and career

Jerry Lewis 1958
Jerry Lewis for his NBC television program 1958

Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey, he started performing at age five and would often perform alongside his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York. He was a "character" even in his teenage years, pulling pranks in his neighborhood including sneaking into kitchens to steal fried chicken and pies. He dropped out of Irvington High School in the tenth grade. During World War II, he was rejected for military service because of a heart murmur.

Lewis first became famous as part of Martin & Lewis, working with singer Dean Martin. They worked together for ten years. They appeared on stage, radio and television, and in movies. The Martin and Lewis films were reliable financial successes for Paramount, and hugely popular with audiences.

Jerry Lewis poses 1957
Jerry Lewis poses 1957

The partnership ended with their final nightclub act on July 24, 1956 (the team’s 10th anniversary of their debut as a duo). Both Martin and Lewis went on to highly successful solo careers, and neither would comment on the split nor consider a reunion. However, they would occasionally be seen at the same public events.

Lewis directed of many of his movies. He was the first director to use video cameras with movie cameras, to help with filming scenes. Film takes time to process, but videotape can be played back right away, saving time and work if a scene needs to be redone. Other directors soon started using his technique, and it is still used today.

During the 1970s, Lewis' movies became less popular. He moved away from acting and directing. In the 1990s, he returned to performing onstage. He continued to perform during the 2000s.


Lewis' motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821 Hollywood Blvd

Widely known as a comic genius, Lewis influenced generations of comedians, comedy writers, performers and filmmakers. Often regarded as the bridge from Vaudeville to modern comedy. Jerry Lewis was the most profoundly creative comedian of his generation and arguably one of the two or three most influential comedians born anywhere in this century.

Lewis’ comedy style was physically uninhibited and expressive. He was known especially for his distinctive voice, facial expressions and physical stunts. His improvisations and ad-libbing, especially in nightclubs and early television, were revolutionary among performers. He had a raw, edgy energy that would distinguish him within the comedy landscape.

Martin and Lewis films

Year Film Role Notes
1949 My Friend Irma Seymour
1950 My Friend Irma Goes West Seymour
1950 At War with the Army PFC Alvin Korwin
1951 That's My Boy 'Junior' Jackson
1952 Sailor Beware Melvin Jones
1952 Jumping Jacks Hap Smith
1952 Road to Bali 'Woman' in Lala's Dream Cameo
1952 The Stooge Theodore Rogers Also uncredited writer
1953 Scared Stiff Myron Mertz
1953 The Caddy Harvey Miller, Jr.
1953 Money from Home Virgil Yokum
1954 Living It Up Homer Flagg
1954 3 Ring Circus Jerome F. Hotchkiss
1955 You're Never Too Young Wilbur Hoolick
1955 Artists and Models Eugene Fullstack
1956 Pardners Wade Kingsley Sr/Wade Kingsley Jr.
1956 Hollywood or Bust Malcolm Smith

Jerry Lewis films

Year Film Role Notes
1957 The Delicate Delinquent Sidney L. Pythias Also producer
1957 The Sad Sack Private Meredith Bixby
1958 Rock-A-Bye Baby Clayton Poole Also producer
1958 The Geisha Boy Gilbert Wooley Also producer
1959 Don't Give Up the Ship John Paul Steckler I, IV, and VII
1959 Li'l Abner Itchy McRabbit Cameo
1960 Visit to a Small Planet Kreton
1960 The Bellboy Stanley / Himself Also director, writer and producer
1960 Cinderfella Cinderfella Also producer
1961 The Ladies Man Herbert H. Heebert / Mama Heebert Also director, writer and producer
1961 The Errand Boy Morty S. Tashman Also director and writer
1962 It's Only Money Lester March
1963 The Nutty Professor Professor Julius Kelp / Buddy Love / Baby Kelp Also director and writer
1963 It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Man Who Runs Over Hat Cameo
1963 Who's Minding the Store? Norman Phiffier
1964 The Patsy Stanley Belt / Singers of the Trio Also director and writer
1964 The Disorderly Orderly Jerome Littlefield Also executive producer
1965 The Family Jewels Willard Woodward / James Peyton / Everett Peyton / Julius Peyton / Capt. Eddie Peyton / Skylock Peyton / Bugsy Peyton Also director, writer and producer
1965 Boeing Boeing Robert Reed
1966 Three on a Couch Christopher Pride / Warren / Ringo Raintree / Rutherford / Heather Also director and producer
1966 Way...Way Out Pete Mattermore
1967 The Big Mouth Gerald Clamson / Syd Valentine Also director and producer
1968 Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River George Lester
1969 Hook, Line & Sinker Peter Ingersoll / Fred Dobbs Also producer
1970 One More Time Offscreen voice of the bandleader Also director, writer and producer
1970 Which Way to the Front? Brendon Byers III Also director and producer
1972 The Day the Clown Cried Helmut Doork Also director and writer; uncompleted/unreleased
1980 Hardly Working Bo Hooper Also director and writer
1982 Slapstick of Another Kind Wilbur Swain / Caleb Swain
1982 The King of Comedy Jerry Langford
1983 Cracking Up Warren Nefron / Dr. Perks Also director and writer
1984 Retenez Moi...Ou Je Fais Un Malheur Jerry Logan
1984 Par où t'es rentré ? On t'a pas vu sortir Clovis Blaireau
1987 Fight For Life Dr. Bernard Abrams Television film
1989 Cookie Arnold Ross
1992 Mr. Saturday Night Guest Cameo
1993 Arizona Dream Leo Sweetie
1995 Funny Bones George Fawkes
2008 The Nutty Professor Professor Julius Kelp / Buddy Love (voice) Direct-to-DVD
2010 Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! Stationmaster (voice) Direct-to-DVD
2011 Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis Himself Documentary; also produced
2013 Até que a Sorte nos Separe 2 Bellboy
2016 The Trust Stone's Father
2016 Max Rose Max Rose

Images for kids

See also

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