(JTA) – Comedian and filmmaker Jerry Lewis, known for his work with singer-actor Dean Martin and four decades of hosting the Muscular Dystrophy telethon, has died.
Lewis, best known for his starring role in “The Nutty Professor,” died August 20, at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.
Though he was largely out of the movie industry by the end of the 1960s, Lewis continued to perform a comedy routine in Las Vegas, where he got his start in 1949.
Lewis was born Joseph Levitch to Borscht Belt entertainer parents Danny and Rae Levitch, who used the name Lewis when they appeared in small-time vaudeville and at Catskills resort hotels. Lewis, known as Joey when he was young, said the fact that his parents often left him in the care of his grandmother and aunts gave him a longstanding sense of insecurity and a need for attention.
Lewis began performing with Dean Martin in 1946 and they soared in popularity with Lewis using his physical slapstick comedy acting alongside Martin’s relaxed persona. The duo also starred in 13 films, but broke up ten years later, at which point they were barely speaking to each other. They reconciled in 1987. At the end of his life, Lewis hoped to bring a musical adaptation of the 1963 film “The Nutty Professor” to Broadway.
Lewis began hosting the annual Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon in 1966, remaining as host until 2010, raising more than $2 billion. He received the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable activity in 2009. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for his movie work, the other for television. He was inducted by the French government into the Légion d’Honneur in 2006.
Lewis had two heart attacks, prostate cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. He had suffered from a painkiller dependency in the ‘80s.
He had six sons with his first wife Patty Palmer. His son, Joseph, died in 2009. He is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, and their daughter.