Jerry Lewis, the iconic 20th-century comedian, and actor died on Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91. The news of Lewis’ death was shared by his publicist, Mark Rozzano.

Lewis was a beloved figure of the American 20-century entertainment. He shot to fame at a very early age, shortly after World War II alongside actor Dean Martin – who died in 1995 -; Lewis was successful in movies, television, Broadway, and nightclubs. Many artists have expressed their condolences and astonishment after they knew about Lewis’ death.

Jerry Lewis passed away on Sunday, at 91 years of age. Image Credit: Variety
Jerry Lewis passed away on Sunday, at 91 years of age. Image Credit: Variety

“Sadly I can confirm that today the world lost one of the most significant human beings of the 20th century,” his rep said.

Lewis’s 7-decade legacy

Joseph Levitch – Lewis’ real name – was born on March 19, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were in the entertainment industry, too. His father, Daniel Levitch, was a vaudeville entertainer, and his mother, Rachel Levitch, played the piano for a local radio station. His parents were often on the road, and they left young Joey – as they called him – with his grandmother. He was a student at Union Avenue School in Irvington, and right there he started organizing amateur shows with and for his classmates. During the winter of 1938, he accompanied their parents on their tours, and there he created a comedy act where he lip-synced popular songs. He dropped out of school when before his 16th birthday, and he decided to adopt his professional name “Jerry Lewis.”

His professional career started in the mid-1940’s – soon after the World War II was over – teaming up with actor and singer Dean Martin. Lewis was the funny guy alongside Martin in nightclubs. Later they had a radio show. They appear first on television on the as “Toast of the Town” show. It was later renamed to the “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1948, and both actors received national prominence.

Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in 1953. Image Credit: Historical Pics
Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in 1953. Image Credit: Historical Pics

Soon, the duo got the opportunity to be in films. They began with “My Friend Irma” in 1949 and its sequel, “My Friend Irma Goes West,” which was released a year later. Together, Lewis and Martin made 14 films in the 50’s, including movies such as “At War with the Army,” “The Caddy” and “Pardners.” They were popular as a duo, but that didn’t stop any of them to have a solo career. They broke their duo in 1956. In the 60’s Jerry Lewis was in films such as “The Bellboy,” and the comic book series “The Adventures of Jerry Lewis,” which aired from 1957 to 1971. In 1995, he released an album called “Jerry Lewis Just Sings.” He explored the worlds of filmmaking, writing, production, and direction too. In 1982, he published his autobiography “Jerry Lewis: In Person,”

Lewis had many contributions to the industry and keen humanitarian efforts

Mr. Lewis worked for several years with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He even served as chairman of the organization until 2011. He hosted annual telethons to raise money for the institution. The association raised more than $2.6 billion from 1952 to 2010

“Over 5 decades jerry Lewis raised money to help people with disabilities. Unintentionally, he also harmed them. No one had a bigger heart” tweeted Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.

He also left many contributions to the entertainment industry. For example in the 60’s, Lewis created a device, the video assist, which allows directors to check their work immediately after right on the set.

For his long career, he got lifetime achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 and the American Comedy Awards in 1997. He also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Lewis’ private life

He didn’t serve in the World War II due to a 4F classification kept him out of the war. In 1944, he was performing in Detroit when he met Patti Palmer, a 23-year-old singer. They got married soon after, and she moved in with Jerry.  In 1945, she gave birth to their first of 6 children, Gary, who grew up to be an artist too.

They divorced in 1980, and Lewis married later his second wife, SanDee Pitnick. Lewis was survived by her, and his children Gary, Ronnie, Scott, Christopher, Anthony, and Danielle. His youngest kid, Joseph died on October 2009 after an overdose at the age of 45.

Lewis had some illnesses in his later life, such as prostate cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and two heart attacks. He gained a lot of weight too due to the treatments. In 2012, Lewis was taken to a New York hospital after collapsing from low blood sugar. He also had to be hospitalized back in June for a urinary tract infection.

“There’s something about the risk, the courage that it takes to face the risk,” said Lewis once in an interview for The New York Times. “I’m not going to get greatness unless I have to go at it with fear and uncertainty.’’