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Entertainment legend Jerry Lewis dead at age 91

Source: Review Journal

By John Katsilometes and Matthew Crowley

Entertainer Jerry Lewis, famous for his zany comedy and for raising millions to fight muscular dystrophy, died Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas.

He was 91. His family confirmed his death: “Famed comedian, actor and legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis passed away peacefully today of natural causes at 91 at his home in Las Vegas with his family by his side.” According to the family, Lewis died at 9:15 a.m.

Lewis, who performed in Las Vegas with Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and many others, also famously became national chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He hosted the association’s annual Labor Day telethons from 1966 to 2010; they raised some $2.6 billion, according to People magazine. The children suffering from the disease, whom Lewis aimed to help with the telethon, became known as “Jerry’s Kids.”

Lewis was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. He was the son of entertainers — Danny Levitch, a song-and-dance man, and Rae Levitch, a pianist; they performed with the surname Lewis during vaudeville acts. Rae lived in Las Vegas for eight years and is buried in Palm Valley View Cemetery.

In 1946, Lewis co-starred in a nightclub act with Martin, rising to meteoric fame. In the act, Martin was calm, singing unflappably; Lewis was jittery, scampering manically. After frequent pratfalls, Lewis would utter his trademark line, “Hey, lay-dee!”

Remembering ‘Uncle Jerry’

Martin and Lewis landed major gigs at New York’s Copacabana and Roxy Theater and Atlantic City’s 500 Club. In the 1940s and 1950s, the pair combined on movies including “Pardners,” (1956) “The Stooge” (1951), “My Friend Irma,” (1949) and “The Caddy” (1953). On television, they co-hosted “The Colgate Comedy Hour” from 1950 to 1955 on NBC.

Lewis’ love for Martin, whom he called “my partner,” was undeniable. Lewis said he often dreamed of performing onstage with Martin, and named one of his dogs Paulie, after Martin, whose middle name was Paul.

“This is the end of an era for me personally, and for millions of people around the world,” said Deana Martin, Dean Martin’s daughter, who considered Lewis a family member, often calling him “Uncle Jerry.”

“The night I was born, he and my dad were performing at Slapsy Maxie’s in L.A., so I have known Jerry all my life,” she said. “He could be tough, but he was always so giving and sweet to me.”

Lewis broke with Martin in 1956 and wrote, directed and starred in many movies. Lewis’ acting credits include “The Sad Sack” (1957), “The Ladies Man” (1961), and famously “The Bellboy” (1960) and “The Nutty Professor” (1963).

He was featured in Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” (1982) and starred as himself in Billy Crystal’s “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992). On Broadway, Lewis starred in the 1995 revival of “Damn Yankees,” as Mr. Applegate, the Devil; he joined the production on an international tour.

U.S. Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., nominated Lewis for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2009, Lewis received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable work.

Lewis has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies, one for television. The Library of Congress acquired Lewis’ personal archives in 2015.

Lewis also became famous in Europe for his acting and philanthropy. The French government inducted Lewis into the French Legion of Honor (1984) and named him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2006).

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