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Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis

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Also Known As: Joseph Levitch, Joe Levitch Died:
Born: March 16, 1926 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Newark, New Jersey, USA Profession: actor, producer, director, writer, professor of cinema (USC), singer, busboy, shipping clerk, soda jerk, teacher, theater usher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

ous choice to host a national telethon in 1966. Though the idea of a major telethon on a holiday weekend was dismissed by some as an unquestionable failure, Lewis' sheer force of will, along with the help of numerous celebrity guests, helped to raise over $1 million for the charity. He repeated the success the following year, and topped it in 1973 by raising $10 million. Three years later, the telethon made headlines when guest Frank Sinatra brokered an on-air reunion between Lewis and Dean Martin. The telethon had as many detractors as supporters; critics found Lewis treacly and overbearing as a host, and disability rights activities took umbrage at how he described MD sufferers as incapable of taking care of themselves without the support of the telethon. However, few could deny Lewis' passion for the cause, which he displayed through 16-hour stretches on air and ceaseless campaigning in advertising. By 2009, his efforts had raised $1.46 billion for muscular dystrophy, which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1977.Though his humanitarian efforts received considerable praise, Lewis' film career was dead in the water by the 1970s. He remained exceptionally popular in Europe; most notably...

ous choice to host a national telethon in 1966. Though the idea of a major telethon on a holiday weekend was dismissed by some as an unquestionable failure, Lewis' sheer force of will, along with the help of numerous celebrity guests, helped to raise over $1 million for the charity. He repeated the success the following year, and topped it in 1973 by raising $10 million. Three years later, the telethon made headlines when guest Frank Sinatra brokered an on-air reunion between Lewis and Dean Martin. The telethon had as many detractors as supporters; critics found Lewis treacly and overbearing as a host, and disability rights activities took umbrage at how he described MD sufferers as incapable of taking care of themselves without the support of the telethon. However, few could deny Lewis' passion for the cause, which he displayed through 16-hour stretches on air and ceaseless campaigning in advertising. By 2009, his efforts had raised $1.46 billion for muscular dystrophy, which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1977.

Though his humanitarian efforts received considerable praise, Lewis' film career was dead in the water by the 1970s. He remained exceptionally popular in Europe; most notably France, where the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinema heaped some of its most effusive words on his body of work. In America, however, he was regarded as hopelessly out of date, with the dotage by Continental critics and audiences a popular gag with comics and pundits at the expense of Lewis and the French alike. Lewis attempted to resuscitate his image with "The Day the Clown Cried" (1972), a European-produced melodrama about a circus clown forced by the Nazis to lead children into the death chambers. The project horrified just about anyone who heard about it, and the select few who viewed it reported the experience as both baffling and unsettling. Litigation over production fees forced Lewis to cease completion on the film, and in the decades following its production, he was alternately hopeful and dismissive of a final release. Lewis also suffered from a debilitating addiction to the painkiller Percodan during this period, which he eventually overcame in 1978.

A frustrated Lewis returned to his first showcase â¿¿ the stage â¿¿ for a 1976 production of "Hellzapoppin'," but the frantic Jazz Era musical folded before it ever reached Broadway. He was forced to focus on the telethon, as well as comedy performances and lectures to maintain his career until 1981, when he returned to features with "Hardly Working." The comedy, about a hapless circus clown who fails miserably at every attempt to hold down a steady job, relied on relentless slapstick and the broadest of gags, but the film was a surprise hit in American theaters. Sensing a return to form, Lewis began crafting his next picture when disaster struck.

A massive heart attack nearly killed him in 1982; the experience, which he later described as near-death, served as the perverse inspiration for his next picture, "Smorgasbord" (1983), which told the story of a man (Lewis) whose failures extend even to suicide. The picture was released directly to cable under the title "Cracking Up." Its failure was soon overshadowed by a remarkable dramatic turn as a late night talk show host kidnapped by an obsessive fan (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese's black comedy, "The King of Comedy" (1981). Critics were effusive in their praise for Lewis' performance, but he was unable to turn the triumph into subsequent work of the same caliber. Instead, he floundered in a ghastly adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slapstick of Another Kind" (1983), which saw him don appalling makeup and a semi-moronic stance as one half of a pair of monstrous children who are revealed to have extraterrestrial origins. A year later, he returned to France to make a pair of comedies so grim that he retained the rights in order to keep them out of the United States.

In 1986, he enjoyed a resurgence of respect with a dramatic turn in the ABC TV movie "Fight for Life," about a doctor (Lewis) whose struggle to obtain a rare drug for his epileptic daughter highlighted problems within the Food and Drug Administration. He followed this with an impressive four-episode arc on the crime drama "Wiseguy" (CBS, 1987-1990) as a garment business owner who turns to Ken Wahl's undercover agent for protection against mobsters. The appearances sparked a sort of revival of Lewis' career, and he enjoyed a string of modest and well-praised appearances in features like "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992) and "Funny Bones" (1994), most of which traded on his long and storied showbiz career. In 1994, he enjoyed a triumphant run on Broadway as the Devil in a production of "Damn Yankees." Two years later, one of his longest gestating projects, a remake of "The Nutty Professor," finally made it to screen, but with Eddie Murphy as both Julius Kelp and Buddy Love. A blockbuster with audiences, it generated a vulgar 2000 sequel and a tidy sum for Lewis, who served as producer on both films.

Unfortunately, Lewis' health issues and a string of controversial statements forced him to take a back seat throughout most of the new millennium. Prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, and a second heart attack nearly brought him to death's door a second time, and the treatment for the fibrosis through Prednisone resulted in his weight ballooning to dangerous levels. Lewis eventually battled an addiction to the medication, as well as pneumonia, viral meningitis and the insertion of two stents in a blocked artery. The press was sympathetic to Lewis's continuing health issues, but less so in regard to unfortunate statements like his 2000 dismissal of female comics in front of a festival crowd and homophobic jokes made during the 2007 and 2008 telethons. In 2008, he was cited for carrying a concealed weapon at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Despite these incidents, Lewis remained both active and popular as he entered his eighth decade. In 2008, he announced that he was working on a musical stage adaptation of "The Nutty Professor" with composers Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes. The following year, he was cast as the lead in "Max Rose" (2009), his first lead in a feature film since "King of Comedy." Lewis' long and fabled career received its share of tributes during this period as well, most notably the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 81st Annual Academy Awards for his work for muscular dystrophy. The award was one of several major fetes between 2004-09, including a career achievement award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Governors Award from the Emmys in 2005, a Satellite Award for an appearance on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and an induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009. After 45 years of hosting the MDA Labor Day telethon, Lewis announced in May 2011 that he would be stepping down later that year as host, stating that it was time for "new telethon era." He confirmed he would make his final appearance on the September telecast, but still continue in his longtime role as the association's national chairman.66 to begin a string of comedies intended to rebuild his career with movie audiences, but the pictures â¿¿ including "Three on a Couch" (1966), "Way Way Out" (1966), which featured a title song by his son Gary Lewis' pop group the Playboys, and "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1967) â¿¿ failed to generate much box office traction. Sensing the downward motion of his career, he focused his boundless energies on other endeavors, including a film directing class at the University of Southern California where he mentored, among others, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Lewis also became deeply invested in his annual MDA Labor Day Telethon, which raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since 1966. Lewis began hosting regional telethons for the organization as early as 1952, and was the obvi

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Smorgasbord (1983) Director
2.
  Hardly Working (1981) Director
4.
  Which Way to the Front? (1970) Director
5.
  One More Time (1970) Director
6.
  The Big Mouth (1967) Director
7.
  Three on a Couch (1966) Director
8.
  The Family Jewels (1965) Director
9.
  The Patsy (1964) Director
10.
  The Nutty Professor (1963) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Trust, The (2016)
3.
 Milk and Money (1996) (Cameo)
4.
 Funny Bones (1995) George Fawkes
6.
 Arizona Dream (1992) Leo Sweetie
7.
 Mr. Saturday Night (1992) Himself
8.
 Cookie (1989) Arnold Ross
9.
 Fight for Life (1987) Dr Bernard Abrams
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Joined parents in the summers on the Borscht Circuit, performing the occasional solo number to their act
:
As a teen, developed his Record Act, miming and silently mouthing lyrics of songs played off-stage
1942:
Received first professional booking at the Loew's Pitman Theatre in Brooklyn, NY
1944:
Booked at the Glass Hat in NYC on the same bill as Dean Martin
1946:
First performed with Dean Martin at the 500 Club in Atlantic City
1948:
Made TV debut on the Ed Sullivan hosted CBS program "Toast of the Town" (later titled "The Ed Sullivan Show)
1948:
Signed a contract with Universal-International
1949:
First film with Martin, "My Friend Irma"
1949:
Co-formed York Productions with Dean Martin
1949:
Performed in the Martin and Lewis radio show
1950:
Formed Gar-Ron Productions (named after sons Gary and Ronald)
1950:
Martin and Lewis appeared as rotating hosts of "The Colgate Comedy Hour" (NBC)
1954:
Debuted as host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Labor Day telethon
1955:
Began a long collaboration with writer-director Frank Tashlin with the film "Artists and Models"
1956:
Last film with Martin, "Hollywood or Bust"; also directed by Tashlin
1956:
Ended partnership with Dean Martin; later formed Jerry Lewis Productions
1957:
Produced first film without Martin, "The Delicate Delinquet"
1958:
First solo TV special, "The Jerry Lewis Show" (ABC)
1959:
Signed a long-term exclusive contract with Paramount
1960:
Directed and starred in "The Bellboy"; also co-wrote with Bill Richmond
1961:
Directed and starred in the comedy "The Ladies Man"
1963:
Produced and starred in the comedy hit "The Nutty Professor"; also directed and co-wrote with Bill Richmond
1964:
Last picture with Tashlin, "The Disorderly Orderly"
1965:
Discontinued asociation with Paramount
1966:
Appeared as master of ceremonies for first "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon"; began ongoing association with MDA
1969:
Directed Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford in "One More Time"; only time Lewis directed without also acting in the film
1970:
Last released film for 11 years, "Which Way to the Front?"
1971:
Produced and starred in the never-released "The Day the Clown Cried"
1976:
Acted on stage in "Helzapoppin"; show closed before reaching Broadway
1976:
Reunited with Dean Martin on stage at a muscular dystrophy telethon; reunion arranged by Frank Sinatra
1981:
Returned to the screen with "Hardly Working"
1983:
Played a late-night TV host plagued by obsessive fans in Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy"
1988:
Guest starred on five episodes of the CBS series "Wise Guy"
1991:
Starred in "Arizona Dream" with Johnny Depp and Faye Dunnaway
1994:
Traveled to Blackpool, England to make "Funny Bones" for Hollywood Pictures
1995:
Made Broadway debut as Applegate in a revival of "Damn Yankees"
1997:
Reprised role of Applegate in the London production of "Damn Yankees"
2000:
Signed 20-year contract with the Orleans Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, marking his return to Vegas after a 12-year absence
2005:
Wrote a book about his partnership with Dean Martin titled <i>Dean & Me (A Love Story)</i>
2006:
Guest starred on an episode of "Law and Order: SUV" (NBC) as the homeless uncle of Detective Munch (Richard Belzer)
2009:
Announced to return to the big screen for the film "Max Rose"
2011:
Retired as host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Labor Day telethon
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Education

Irvington High School: Irvington , New Jersey -
Essex County Vocational School: Essex County , New Jersey -

Notes

He has made numerous other recordings.

While Lewis has always claimed that his birth name was Joseph, some sources contend that "official records" indicate he was actually named Jerome.

Lewis received the Most Promising Male Star Award from Motion Picture Daily in 1950.

He received the Herald-Fame Award as one of the Top Ten Money Making Stars, 1951, 1952 (as Number One), 1953, 1954, 1957.

Lewis and Dean Martin were voted Best Comedy Team in Motion Picture Daily Radio Poll in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1956.

"The Nutty Professor" was named the Best Picture of 1964 by French critics.

Lewis has won the Best Director of the Year Award eight times in Europe: three in France and one each in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands

"Jerry Lewis is a man for all seasons, all people, all times. His name has, in the hearts of millions, become synonymous with peace, love and brotherhood." --Congressman Les Aspin of Wisconsin, concluding his 1977 nomination of Lewis for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1971, he was presented with the Murray-Green Award for Community Services by the AFL-CIO. It is the highest honor the labor organization can bestow on an American citizen.

In September of 1976, the United States Senate unanimously adopted a resolution of appreciation "For his outstanding contribution in the fight against muscular dystrophy".

Other awards recognizing Lewis' combat against neuromuscular disease include: the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) Award of the Year (June 1978); the Jefferson Award for the "Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged" (June 1978); the Touchdown Club of Washington DC's Hubert H. Humphrey Humanitarian Award (January 1980); Boston University School of Law's Neal Pike Prize for Service to the Handicapped (November 1984); the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service (June 1985); and the Award of Professionalism and Achievement from the Eterna Watch Corporation (1988).

Named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and Commander of Legion of Honor by the French government, both in 1984.

In April 1991, Lewis was inducted into the Broadcast Hall of Fame by the National Association of Broadcasters.

He was inducted into International Comedy Hall of Fame in 1992.

On July 31, 1999, Lewis was hospitalized for nine days in Australia after contracting viral meningitis.

"... With Dean, I finally got my brother. I wasn't an only child anymore, I had someone in my life who was my hero. And he, never having had that kind of relationship, saw that coming from me and nurtured it and treated me with infinite respect while always making me understand that I WAS the kid ... Dean Martin made our act--though I worked very hard in the first six months to get him to be aware of his innate sense of timing. I didn't have time to work on the kid. The kid was just instinctively nuts, and we let him go. But Dean was the genius, and no one has ever noticed that." --Jerry Lewis, Interview, April 1995.

"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way aqain!" --Jerry Lewis moto reflecting his ongoing love affair with humanity

"I don't need other people's pain to make comedy. I just call on my own. I need only to call upon my sorrow to create laughter. Sorrow and laughter are so close, hand-in-glove." --Jerry Lewis in Parade Magazine

There is an official website, The Jerry Lewis Comedy Museum and Store, located at www.jerrylewiscomedy.com.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Patti Palmer. Singer. Married in 1944; divorced in October 1982; born c. 1920.
companion:
Susan Bay. Producer. Had long-term relationship; no longer together.
wife:
SanDee Lewis. Married in 1983.

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Sarah Rothberg. Mother's mother; helped to raise Lewis until her death in 1941.
father:
Danny Lewis. Vaudeville entertainer. Died c. 1982.
mother:
Rae Lewis. Entertainer, pianist, music arranger, musical director for husband.
son:
Gary Lewis. Musician. Born on July 31, 1945; married Sara Jane Suzara in 1967; was member of band Gary Lewis and the Playboys; had big hit, "This Diamond Ring".
son:
Ronald Lewis. Born in 1949; adopted by Lewis and his wife Patti in 1950; wife Gail Lewis.
son:
Scott Lewis. Publicist. Born in 1956.
son:
Christopher Lewis. Born in 1957; in August 1991 pleaded innocent to felony counts of grand theft and receiving stolen property in case involving limited edition artworks worth more than $200,000.
son:
Anthony Lewis. Born in 1959.
son:
Joseph Lewis. Born in 1964.
daughter:
Danielle Sara Lewis. Born in April 1992; adopted by Lewis and second wife SanDee in May 1992.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Total Film-Maker"
"Jerry Lewis In Person" Atheneum
"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" St. Martin's Press

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