Entertainer Jerry Lewis, one of Hollywood’s most successful comedians, has died. He was 91.
The comedian, whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, died at his Las Vegas home.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes reported that he died at his home at 9:15 a.m. and his agent confirmed the news.
His annual Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon, for which he raised more than $2.45 billion before being relieved of his role as leader of the telethon in 2011.
As late as 2016, he continued to perform in Las Vegas, where he first did his comedy routine in 1949.
His 10-year partnership in the 1950s with Dean Martin saw them star in 16 films and achieve huge box office success, becoming one of the most successful tandems in the history of show business.
Lewis chalked up box office successes in The Bell Boy, Cinderfella and The Nutty Professor. “The Nutty Professor” (1963) was his biggest success ever, grossing $19 million.
He was born Joseph Levitch in Newark, N.J. Both his parents were in show business and, at the age of 5, Lewis made his debut at a Borscht Belt hotel singing “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”
Perhaps because his parents spent a great deal of time on the road, Lewis was demanding attention through humor by the time he was attending Irvington High School in New Jersey. By age 15 he was pantomiming operatic and popular songs and was booked into a burlesque house in Buffalo.
In 1942 he tried out his comic pantomiming at Brown’s Hotel in upstate New York, where he was also working the summer as a bellboy. Comic Irving Kaye was sufficiently impressed to land Lewis some bookings and became his road manager.
In 2009, Lewis received the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Award for his charitable work. In May 2014, he added his footprints to those of other screen luminaries at the Chinese Theatre.
In 1944 Lewis married former band singer Patti Palmer, with whom he had six sons, Gary, Ronnie, Scott, Anthony, Christopher and Joseph, who died in 2009. Gary for a time had a rock career as the lead singer of Gary Lewis & the Playboys. The marriage ended in divorce.
He is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, with whom he adopted a daughter.