US comedian / actor Jerry Lewis, best known for his movies with Dean Martin, has died aged 91.
He died of natural causes at his home in Las Vegas with his family by his side on Sunday, after being hospitalised for about five weeks beginning in early June for a urinary tract infection.
Lewis became a star in the early 1950s as Martin’s comic sidekick in nightclubs, on television and in 16 movies. At their height, they set off the kind of fan hysteria that once surrounded Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. His movie persona, like the character he created in the act with Martin, varied little from film to film. He was zany and manic, forever squealing, grimacing and flailing his way through situations beyond his control.
Their decade-long partnership ended with a bitter split and by the time they made their last movie together, they reportedly were not speaking. They parted after a 1956 nightclub show, 10 years to the day after they first teamed. Lewis went on to star in his own film comedies.
He starred in more than 45 films in a career spanning five decades. Film credits included My Friend Irma, My Friend Irma Goes West, The Bellboy, Hollywood or Bust, Cinderfella, The Nutty Professor, Rock-a-bye Baby, The Disorderly Orderly, The Geisha Boy, Who’s Minding the Store? and a dramatic outing in The King of Comedy.
In TV Lewis became closely associated with his annual Labor Day telethon to benefit children with muscular dystrophy. He first started doing telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1952 before retiring from the job in 2011. The telethons have raised $2.45 billion over some 45 years.
There were also roles in Ben Casey, Wiseguy, Startime, The Big Mouth and Mad About You.
Lewis won several awards for lifetime achievements from The American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and Venice Film Festival, and he had two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, he received the Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors, which is the highest Emmy Award presented. On February 22, 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
But Lewis also could be a controversial figure. He was forced to apologise for making a gay slur on camera during a 2007 telethon and was known for making racist and misogynistic jokes into his 90s. He was never shy in sharing his right-wing views.
“I will do whatever is necessary to make better the stupidity on my part — and therefore go after those who are acting stupid themselves. It’s not popular. You don’t make friends when you do that. And I couldn’t care less.” he once said.