Jerry Lewis has passed on.
Jerry Lewis, the brash slapstick comic who teamed with Dean Martin in the 1950s and later starred in “The Nutty Professor” and “The Bellboy” before launching the Muscular Dystrophy telethon, has died in Las Vegas. He was 91.
Over the past 10 years of his life, the cranky icon’s reputation soured as he was forced to apologize for making a gay slur on camera during the 2007 telethon, continued to make racist and misogynistic jokes into his ’90s, and didn’t hesitate to share his right-wing political views.
Lewis’ pairing with Martin, featuring their improvisatory backbiting and physical chicanery, was an instant hit in 1946. When producer Hal Wallis saw them performing at the Copacabana and at Slapsie Maxie’s in Hollywood, he saw the potential for a new Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and signed them to a Paramount Pictures contract.
For the next 10 years, Martin and Lewis turned out one silly film after the next starting with “My Friend Irma” in 1949 and including “The Caddy,” “The Stooge,” “Artists and Models” and “Pardners.” None of their films grossed less than $5 million, a handy sum in those days.
His later years of anger, bitterness and bigotry are hard to take, but it's equally difficult to deny his legacy and impact on both comedy and philanthropy. The Muscular Dystrophy Association estimated that his telethons raised some $2.5 billion over the course of his nearly sixty years.
[Nicole:] The Hollywood Reporter released his final on-camera interview, which highlights Lewis' complicated late career legacy.