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Jerry Lewis

(1926 - 2017)

Jerry Lewis was a Jewish American comedian, actor, singer, producer, screenwriter and director.

He was born Joseph Levitch in Newark, New Jersey to a family of actors. Lewis began his acting career performing in a burlesque in 1942, at the age of 16.

In 1946, at the age of 20, Lewis began working closely with singer Dean Martin as the 'Martin and Lewis' comedy team. By the late 1940s, both men had risen to national fame, first with their popular nightclub act and then as film stars. The team became huge in successful film such as At War with the Army (1951) and Hollywood or Bust (1956). They continued to perform together, until their split in 1956, which created a long standing feud between the men. It was not until the late 1980s, after Martin’s son died, that the two men reconciled.

In 1957, Lewis returned as a solo act with his debut film The Delicate Delinquent. In 1960, he produced, directed, co-wrote with Bill Richmond, and starred in his own movie, The Bellboy. Lewis went on to direct several more films which he co-wrote with Richmond, including The Ladies Man, The Errand Boy, and The Nutty Professor. Lewis was Hollywood's highest paid film actor in the 1960's. After a long absence from film, Lewis returned in the early 1980s with Hardly Working, a film he both directed and starred in. Then in 1983, he made a critically acclaimed performance in Martin Scorsese’s film The King of Comedy. During the 1990s, Lewis continued doing work in small films.

In 1966, Lewis began hosting an annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a role which he held for over 40 years. In 1977, he became the only comic ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and in 1985, he received a United States Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. In March 2006, the French Minister of Culture awarded Lewis the ‘Legion of Honor.’ Lewis received the National Association of Broadcaster's Distinguished Service Award in April 2015.

Lewis was a life-long philanthropist, and raised over $2 billion for his Muscular Dystrophy Association's Charity, Jerry's Kids.  He was honored by not just one, but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  

Jerry Lewis died in his Las Vegas home at the age of 91 on August 20, 2017.  

Sources: “Jerry Lewis (1926 - ).” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 465, Wikipedia, IMDB, Wikimedia By Wire photo (ebay) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons