Remembering Jerry Lewis 1926-2017
The World Lost A Legend. Jerry Lewis died On August 20th at the age of 91. I wrote this feature in front of the old Hotel Arthur in Lakewood, New Jersey. This is the place where Jerry Lewis first performed in public for the first time. The late, great Jerry Lewis, was unquestionably one of the most celebrated comedians, filmmakers and humanitarians in The 20th Century.
He was best known for his slapstick style humor, as some would describe ‘acting a fraction of his age’. At the ripe age of 20, was the start of a show-business career that spanned over seventy years. Lewis was at one point, the highest paid actor in Hollywood. However, his rise to fame wasn't alone. He got his big break with his sidekick, Dean Martin.
Ronald McCloskey, a historian with a deep admiration for Lewis recalls, “In the Summer Of 1946, there was a singer that was booked at the 500 Club with Jerry Lewis and the singer didn’t work out. The owner said to Jerry, I need someone, is there anybody that comes to mind that can fill in?” He thought of Dean right away and sure enough two stars were born.
Lewis said in an old interview for CBS This Morning, “I fell in love with him the day we met.”
The dynamic duo of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis took off in 1946. The phenomenal rise of Martin and Lewis was like nothing show business had ever seen before. They made 16 films together in ten years.
MacCloskey continued on,”Literally within weeks, they went from four people in the audience to one thousand people around the block waiting to see these two guys perform. The team of Martin-Lewis was born and the rise in show business was astronomical.
As they say, most good things come to an end. However, the breakup of the world-famous partnership led to other big opportunities for Lewis. He signed a contract With ABC to host a weekly, two-hour, live Saturday Night Variety-Talk Show in late 1962.
Lewis described it at the time, “When I walk into the Tonight Show, I walk into free floating wonderful formula of anything goes.”
Lewis, along with his other talents, used his fame to help others. In 1966, was the first time he hosted a telethon for those suffering from Muscular Dystrophy. It became a ritual - Each Labor Day for 44 Years. The amount of money he raised…‘2 Billion, 700 Million Dollars’ that are accounted for.
Lewis was selfless and spent decades helping others, while ignoring his own suffering.
MacCloskey describes, “He (Lewis) had pain for most of his life, he was hooked on Percocet’s for a while, so he had that problem, then he had a bypass surgery, then he had Colon Cancer. So as time went by, unfortunately his health got very, very poor.”
He adds, “One of the saddest things I ever saw was to see Jerry Lewis in a wheelchair for the first time, because he had done the telethon for so long, and for so many tears with those kids in wheelchairs and now he was in a wheelchair.”
Like many skilled comedians do, they find a way to mask their pain. In another interview Lewis did after his 90th birthday, he shared “My daughter said, would you have liked not to make it to 90, Dad? I said no, I’m very happy about it.”
The comedic legend is one that could not be matched. Lewis has influenced the World of Entertainment – In Radio, Television, Film And performing live on stage.
Lewis leaves behind a long legacy, his seven children, as well as an invention that is still used to this day- The Video Assist.
World-Renowned Filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, said in an interview once, “The Video Assist was invented by Jerry (Lewis), because nobody had any idea what they were getting until the operator blasted it or until the operator critiqued it. There should be a sign saying ‘Jerry Lewis invented this.”
Lewis continued in one of his last interviews ever, “I was blessed, I was lucky, I was given this marvelous gift. And now, I can make children all around the world laugh.”
As the legend said, “you will never walk alone..”
Rest in Peace, Jerry Lewis.
For the full video that aired on television: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTYEak-ai7w