REUTERS - Jerry Lewis, the comedic legend who teamed up with Dean Martin before starring in his own series of slapstick movies, died at his Las Vegas home at the age of 91, his family said.
Lewis rose to fame as a goofy foil to suave partner Dean Martin and was a comic icon in France. He once summed up his career by saying “I’ve had great success being a total idiot.”
Below are some facts about comic actor Jerry Lewis:
* Lewis was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926 but took his stage name from his father, a vaudeville performer known as Danny Lewis. His entertainment career began as a 5-year-old singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” in resorts in New York state’s “Borscht Belt” resorts.
* Lewis started his 10-year partnership with Dean Martin in 1946 and they made 16 movies together, in addition to scores of nightclub and television appearances. Observers have attributed their breakup to Lewis’ interest in producing and directing movies, his ego and need for control, as well as a desire for approval from the often-remote Martin. They each went on to have successful careers on their own.
* Martin and Lewis were reunited in 1976 when Frank Sinatra brought Martin onstage during that year’s muscular dystrophy telethon. They eventually reconciled and remained friends until Martin’s 1995 death. Lewis wrote about their pairing in the 2005 book “Dean and Me: A Love Story.”
* Lewis hosted his first Labor Day muscular dystrophy telethon in 1966. It was carried by only one New York television station and raised more than $1 million. In 1977 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his fund-raising work. In all, over the years he raised a total $2.45 billion, according to his publicist.
* Lewis’ goofy characters made him a comic deity in France. Some French critics saw this fascination with Lewis as an attraction of opposites — sophisticates enjoying a comic who never tried to make sense. Others saw social commentary in his antics. Lewis explained it by saying: “The French are very visually oriented even though they are cerebral. They enjoy what they see and laugh. Then, later, they ask why.”
* Lewis played seven characters in the 1965 comedy “The Family Jewels,” which he also directed and co-wrote.
* Lewis’ son was the frontman of the 1960s band, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, best known for the hit “This Diamond Ring.” One of Jerry’s characters sits down to listen to the song in a scene in “The Family Jewels.”
* New York Giants star Frank Gifford doubled for Lewis in the football scenes of the 1951 movie “That’s My Boy.”
Editing by Sandra Maler