Comedian Jerry Lewis dies aged 91

Author
Adam Bernstein, Washington Post,
Section
Entertainment,
Publish Date
Monday, 21 August 2017, 7:02AM
Comedian Jerry Lewis has died at the age of 91. (Photo / AP)
Comedian Jerry Lewis has died at the age of 91. (Photo / AP)

Comedian Jerry Lewis has died at the age of 91.

The slapstick comic, who starred in the likes of The Nutty Professor and The Bellboy died at home in Las Vegas at 9.15am local time.

Jerry Lewis was a comic actor whose rubber-limbed pratfalls, squeaky voice and pipsqueak buffoonery made him one of the most uncontainable screen clowns of all time.

His partnership with the suave and assured crooner Dean Martin made them a sensation, easily the most popular comedy team of the mid-20th century. After their bitter break up, which devastated their millions of fans, Mr. Lewis embarked on a solo career of dizzying summits and desperate lows, including an addiction to painkillers as years of physical comedy took their toll.

Fascinated by the technical side of film, he became one of the first sound-era comedians to write, direct and star in his own movies. He was credited with laying the groundwork for later comedic writer-director-actors such as Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.

Few comedians have been so beloved and so derided as Mr. Lewis, who amassed devoted fans and stunningly hostile reviews from critics. Few have been so accomplished as humanitarians - his annual muscular dystrophy telethons had raised almost $1.5 billion by the late 2000s - or so polarising as personalities.

Mr. Lewis could be candid and coy, insightful and insulting in the same sentence. He was tireless, demanding and insecure - in his own words "a neurotic, temperamental imbecile." He could also play the charming child, telling interviewers he never felt more than 9 years old.

"An audience is nothing more than eight or nine hundred mamas and papas clapping their hands and saying, 'Good boy, baby,' " he said. "You'll find that people who had enough 'Good boy, baby' from their actual parents rarely turn to comedy."

Mr. Lewis was, for better or worse, one of the most unforgettable entertainers of his generation. In his later years, he battled spinal meningitis, pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes, among other ailments. His death at his home in Las Vegas was confirmed by his publicist, Candi Cazau.

 

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