Comedian Jerry Lewis has died at age 91. And if you don’t know who Jerry Lewis was, you are not alone. We had 25-year-old guests at our home tonight who said, “Who’s Jerry Lewis?”
In the 1950s Jerry Lewis teamed up with crooner Dean Martin as what was perhaps America’s most popular entertainment team. Martin was the smooth ladies man, Lewis the wacky goof. They starred in nightclubs first, then on radio and TV and film. They broke up in 1956, unhappily, 10 years after their first successes.
Lewis went on to go full nutso in a series of comedy films through the 1950s and ’60s. His rubber-faced comedic personality — the untamed nebbish, constantly screwing up (or flat-out destroying) whatever he touched — made some people laugh ’till they ached, and drove others up the wall.
In the 1970s he remade himself again as the host of an annual Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The all-night broadcast (in the days when TV normally went off the air at 1:00 am) was hugely popular; his NY Times obituary says that Lewis raised over $2 BILLION for the MDA over the course of his 40 or so years on the job.
This scene from his 1960 movie Cinderfella is as good an introduction to Lewis as any. It’s all about Jerry and his moves, and in truth, he does have the funny touch.(Jump to the 5-minute mark for some truly Lewis-esque cavorting.) But if you believe Anna Maria Alberghetti is in love with that goof, you’re a handsomer viewer than I. Wikipedia says that after Lewis sprinted up the stairs at the end of the scene, he collapsed with a “cardiac event” and spent four days in the hospital.
Jerry Lewis has been in rough health for years; the Las Vegas Review-Journal says that he was just hospitalized for two months for a urinary tract infection. See Variety for an in-depth look at all the ups and downs of his career. So long and good luck, Mr. Lewis, wherever you may be.