Variety reports that comedian and telethon enthusiast Jerry Lewis has died at the age of 91. I refuse to believe that Jerry Lewis just walked into the afterlife. Jerry Lewis made his entrance by tripping over a pile of clouds or the tails on a ghost’s tuxedo. At the very least, he definitely announced his arrival by yelling, “Hey angel layyyyyydeeeeeeee!”
The news was first reported by The Las Vegas Review-Journal and confirmed later to Variety by Jerry’s agent. Jerry Lewis passed away this morning from natural causes. Jerry Lewis is survived by his second wife and five children.
Jerry Lewis, born Joseph Levitch, got started in the 1940s – the 40s! – with his longtime partner (and one-time frenemy) Dean Martin. They made 17 films together. In 1956 Jerry split with Dean and went out on his own, which is where we get classic, wacky Jerry Lewis. Rock-A-Bye Baby, Cinderfella, The Patsy, and of course The Nutty Professor. No, not the one that gave Eddie Murphy a reason to fart in a variety of fatsuits. The original from 1963 where Jerry Lewis goes from Professor Frink’s inspiration to a legitimately sexy (don’t doubt it) Jerry Lewis.
American audiences got a bit tired of Jerry’s constant mugging and slapstickery, and that’s how we get that joke about Jerry Lewis being huge in France. Although he still made movies here, they got a bit more serious, like Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, or weird, like The Day the Clown Cried, which would be his unreleased rumored-to-be-so-weird Holocaust drama about a clown.
And anyone with a television is at least a little familiar with the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon that ran from 1966 until 2014. He reportedly raised billions for muscular dystrophy. Jerry did it live every year, which wasn’t such a great idea when Jerry let slip whatever not-right thoughts were in his mouth at the time.
Speaking of later years, Jerry was basically your unpredictable old uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. Would you get in-a-good-mood Jerry, or the allegedly unpleasant, crusty control freak Jerry? The Hollywood Reporter tried it last year, and they got a Jerry who was not having any of it. Or maybe he was just in-character as an old comedian who couldn’t believe his agent talked him into such shenanigans.
I’m going to end with Jerry arriving at the ball in Cinderfella. It’s a very Jerry Lewis move to descend a staircase in such a way that has everyone down at the bottom thinking “Okay, this is why you should have an escalator put in.”
Rest in peace, Jerry.