Jerry Lewis wasn’t the only member of his family to play a role in the entertainment industry. Lewis’ parents performed in New York and his eldest son, Gary Lewis, was the leader of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, a popular 1960s pop band.
Although Lewis later reconciled with his father, they still didn’t get along well enough to be included in Jerry Lewis’ will. On September 21, People Magazine obtained a copy of the will, which revealed that he intentionally cut out all six children he had with his first wife, Patti Palmer. Instead, his widow, SanDee Pitnick and their adopted daughter, 25-year-old Danielle, will inherit his fortune.
“I have intentionally excluded Gary Lewis, Ronald Lewis, Anthony Joseph Lewis, Christopher Joseph Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis, and Joseph Christopher Lewis and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention that they shall receive no benefits hereunder,” the will, executed in 2012, reads.
Lewis’ group was best known for “This Diamond Ring,” “Green Grass,” “Count Me In” and “Same Your Heart For Me.” He even performed a song called “Everybody Loves A Clown,” a tribute to his father.
Gary, now 71, has been married five times. He was married to Sara Jane Suzara from 1967 to 1970 and has been married to Donna Grow since 2003. According to a 2014 Rebeat Magazine article, Gary adopted a son named John and also had a daughter, Sara, with Sara Jane.
Here’s what you need to know about Gary and his relationship with his dad.
1. Lewis & Patti Palmer Wanted to Name Gary After Cary Grant, But a Clerical Error Changed His Name
Gary is the son of Jerry Lewis and his first wife, Patti Palmer. According to ClassicBands.com, Palmer wanted to name their first son after actor Cary Grant. However, a clerical error at the hospital changed his name to “Gary.”
Gary started playing the drums when he was only 14 years old, as his parents got him a set for his birthday. Four years later, he put a band together with David Costell, David Walker and Al Ramsey on guitar and John West on keyboard. When two of them showed up late to a rehearsal, he jokingly called them “Playboys.” And that’s how the group got their name.
In 1964, the group got a job at Disneyland without telling the park administration that Gary was Jerry Lewis’ son. And even though he lived just two doors away from Gary, record producer Snuff Garrett didn’t hear them perform until he saw them at the theme park.
Garrett realized that he could turn the group into a success, especially if the public knew that Gary was Lewis’ son. According to AllMusic, Garrett even hired Buddy Rich to help Gary become a better drummer. In late 1964, they recorded “This Diamond Ring,” which turned the group into an overnight success after it hit the charts in early 1965.
Later, drummer Jim Keltner replaced Gary on drums. Keltner would go on to become one of the best-known sessions drummers, working with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Carly Simon and John Lennon.
2. Gary Wrote ‘Everybody Loves a Clown’ in Tribute to His Father
After “This Diamond Ring,” the group released a string of hit singles throughout 1965. One hit was “Everybody Lives A Clown,” which was written by Gary, Garrett and Leon Russell.
In an interview with Villages News, Gary said the song was written just for his father and he didn’t intend to record it at first.
“I was writing the song as a gift for my father on his birthday,” Lewis said. “But it sounded so good, I thought it could be a hit. So I recorded it. I forgot what I gave my father that year for his birthday. Maybe it was a bowling ball.”
The group continued recording hit singles through 1969, but their songs often topped out in the lower depths of the charts by then. Lewis released his singles in 1972 and 1975 as solo records. As ClassicBands.com notes, he retired in 1971 and opened a music store in the San Fernadno Valley. Two years later, he formed another group called Medicine in Oklahoma, but the group never had success. In 1984, he suddenly found himself touring again because of the growing interest in 1960s nostalgia.
In 2012, Gary released the single “You Can’t Go Back.”
3. He Was Drafted During the Vietnam War & Served in South Korea
Gary’s career took a hit in 1967 when he was drafted during the Vietnam War era. He didn’t serve in Vietnam and was instead stationed in South Korea the following year.
“I hated going in, but it was the best thing I could have done,” Gary told Villages News. “The Army is where I grew up.”
Since he’s a veteran himself, Gary and his band often donate their time to VA shows, although they are paid for their travel. “I’ve been an advocate for the vets, because I saw how troops were treated when we were in Viet Nam — that kind of thing has gotten much better,” Gary told Cleveland.com in 2011.
In that interview, Gary said he wasn’t talking to his father too often, but they were on good terms. The two had a falling out in the late 1960s, but did reconcile.
“He’s OK,” Gary said in 2011. “He’s slowing way down. We don’t get to see each other too much, but he and I both understand being on the road and being busy. Every now and then we’ll be in a city at the same time.”
4. He Appeared in A Few Jerry Lewis Movies, Even Playing a Younger Version of His Father
As a young boy, Gary appeared in a few of his father’s films. He played a younger version of his father’s character in Rock-A-Bye Baby, and had un-credited roles in It’s Only Money (1962), The Nutty Professor (1963) and The Patsy (1964). In 1959, he also appeared in an episode of The George Burns Show.
In 2007, Gary told Ocala.com that his father never pushed him into comedy.
“My dad always told me, do what you want in life, but do with all your heart and give a hundred percent,” Gary said. “My dad never pushed me into comedy. I always knew if I went into comedy I would never have an identity of my own. I would always be compared to him.”
5. Gary & His Family Now Live in Western New York & He Still Tours
Gary and his wife Donna live in Rush, New York, near Rochester. He has lived in the area for 20 years, as his wife is from Rochester. In 2016, Gary was inducted into the Rochester Hall of Fame, reports Rochester First.
The group still tours with other 1960s pop groups on the nostalgia circuit. They have shows scheduled throughout the rest of 2017. He no longer tours with the original members of the Playboys.
“The touring has never stopped,” Gary told Cleveland.com in 2011. “We’re going to tour until we need iron lungs.”