Legendary comedian and filmmaker Jerry Lewis passed away earlier today, at the age of 91. His publicist confirmed that Lewis died in his home at about 9:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
Lewis became a pop culture sensation from his partnership with Dean Martin and is known for comedy classics like “The Nutty Professor” and “The Bellboy.”
Lewis also helped raised over $2.5 billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through his annual Labor Day telethon that he hosted until 2011, according to Variety. The telethon would sometimes run as long as 21 hours, featured many guests including the entertainment flavor of the month, “Tonight Show” co-host Ed McMahon and John Lennon. In 1976, he reunited with Martin, thanks to the intercession of mutual acquaintance Frank Sinatra. Lewis was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy in 2009.
In 2016, Lewis gave an awkward interview with The Hollywood Reporter (video above). Lewis, who was clearly agitated, responded to the interviewer’s questions with hostility and mostly one word answers. The Hollywood Reporter titled the accompanying article, “The most painfully awkward interview of 2016.” The video went viral after it was posted.
Lewis, born Joseph Levitch, was born in Newark New Jersey on March 16, 1926. His father was a vaudeville performer, and his mother was a piano player. He was mostly raised by his grandmother.
After his success with Martin, Lewis went solo in the early 60’s, he became a top draw in movies like “The Bellyboy,” “The Nutty Professor” and “The Patsy.”
Along the way, he pioneered the use of videotape and closed-circuit monitors in moviemaking, a now-standard technique called video assist, according to CNN.
Despite Lewis’ success, he was also a controversial figure. He drew criticism when he criticized women doing comedy, according to CNN. A number of people suffering with muscular dystrophy claimed Lewis presented victims as childlike and worth of pity, rather than equal members of society.
Lewis had six children, five sons and a daughter, by two wives. His son, Gary, became the lead singer of the 1960’s pop group Gary Lewis and the Playboys.