Jerry Lewis is gone. He was 91 years old.
The comedian passed away Sunday morning, according to reports.
Lewis’ agent confirms he died at home, surrounded by his family.
Born in 1926, Lewis was the only child of vaudevillian Danny Lewis. He would make his stage debut at the age of five. In his teens, he did a solo act miming to popular records.
From 1946 to 1956, he was part of the Martin and Lewis comedy team. Dean Martin would play the role of the straight man, while Lewis put his slapstick skills to good use. To audiences and critics, they became “the Organ Grinder and the Monkey.” Lewis’s shtick would be that of “the Kid”, a child in the body of a grown man. They had a string of successful films, including Sailor Beware, The Caddy, and Pardners.
The duo’s fame was akin to that of Elvis Presley or the Beatles. Ultimately, Lewis’ popularity came to overshadow Martin, who put less and less work into their routines. They would call it quits in 1956 after ten years together. Although they did reconcile in 1976, the duo performed once more on Martin’s 72nd birthday.
After splitting with Martin, Lewis continued to act, write and direct movies for Paramount. His biggest hits include Cinderfella, The Bell Boy, and The Nutty Professor. While his US popularity would decline in the 1960s, the French would come to view him as an icon.
When he wasn’t acting, Lewis would also teach a filmmaking course at the University of Southern California. Another venture he ran was Jerry Lewis Cinemas, a franchise which only showed family-friendly films.
As he got older, Lewis did try to venture out into more serious material. The Day The Clown Cried should have been his first dramatic film, but it never got a release due to legal problems. The film is now at the Library of Congress, but it will not be shown until 2025.
Following Clown, Lewis did not act again until 1980’s Hardly Working. By 1983, he got a more adult role as a talk show host in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. He made his Broadway debut in a 1995 revival of Damn Yankees.
When he wasn’t performing, Lewis was known for his work as a spokesman and advocate for muscular dystrophy. His annual Jerry Lewis Telethon and charity Jerry’s Kids would raise more than $2.45 billion. He would serve as Emcee of the event, which he did until 2010. Up until 2016, Lewis would do comedy shows in Las Vegas.
He is survived by his second wife and six of his seven children.