American entertainment icon Jerry Lewis passed away earlier this morning at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, he was 91-years old. Lewis started off a zany slapstick comedian before leading his "Jerry's Kids" telethons to raise a lot of money for muscular dystrophy research. Lewis and his annual telethons raised a whooping $2.6 billion dollars for muscular dystrophy research over the years and brought an incredible amount of awareness to the disease.
Lewis' death was confirmed by Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John Katsilometes' Twitter account this morning. Lewis died peacefully at 9:15 AM at his home in Las Vegas, surrounded by his family. The entertainer had many health ailments over the years including open-heart surgery in 1983, a surgery for prostate cancer in 1992, and a heart attack in 2006. Lewis also went to treatment in 2003 for prescription drugs and suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic lung disease that he took Prednisone for, which caused his body to and face to swell.
Jerry Lewis dominated show business with Dean Martin in the 1950s, ruling nightclubs, radio, and even the box office with their comedy act. The duo had a bad, highly publicized break-up of their partnership when Martin's contributions began to be overlooked, which led to Lewis going solo and becoming a box office sensation with comedies like The Nutty Professor and Bellboy in the early 1960s. But it wasn't just easy for the comedian to step out and go solo. Lewis had said that he and his wife at the time went for a vacation in Las Vegas because he felt that his life was in a "crisis state." Lewis also felt that he had zero confidence to go out on his own, but a call from Judy Garland's then husband, Sid Luft, changed the course of his career. Lewis was asked to fill in for a sick Garland to perform for thousands in a Las Vegas club and the comedian killed it, leading to a new found confidence and a new career path.
Lewis was born on March 16th, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey to Russian Jewish parents. His father, Daniel Levitch was a master of ceremonies and vaudeville entertainer who used the name Danny Lewis and his mother, Rachel, was a piano player for a radio station. Lewis started performing at the young age of 5 and would often perform along side his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. By the age of 15, Lewis already had his "record act" in which he would perform to old phonograph records. The late comedian dropped out of high school in tenth grade and played a character in his teenage years, pulling pranks.
Jerry Lewis was immensely popular throughout Europe, winning 8 best actor awards across the Europe, but was particularly popular in France where they called him "Le Roi du Crazy." In 1984, Lewis was presented with the French Legion of Honor and in 2009 was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award; he kept the trophy from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on a platform above a TV in his Las Vegas home, where it would rotate at the push of a button, in true Jerry Lewis fashion. He ventured onto the stage in 1995, making his Broadway debut in a revival of the musical Damn Yankees. Playing the devil, he was reportedly paid the highest sum in Broadway history at the time. As a new generation came to appreciate his work, specifically, "Hey, l-a-a-a-d-y," one of his signature catchphrases, became a favorite of his fellow comedians. Lewis married his second wife, SanDee Pitnick in 1983 and they adopted a daughter named Danielle Sara Lewis in 1992. Lewis is also survived by the 6 children with his previous wife, Patti Palmer, Gary Lewis, Ronald Steven Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis, Christopher Lewis, Anthony Lewis, and Joseph Lewis.