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Hollywood legend Jerry Lewis has passed away at 91

Jerry Lewis, one of the zaniest, sharpest, and inspired comedic minds ever in the history of show business has passed away today. The mind behind such classics as THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES MAN was 91 years old, had passed away at his home in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Born Joseph Levitch in 1946 in Newark, New Jersey, Lewis’ career in show business goes back over 70 years, when in 1946 – at age 20 – Lewis formed a comedy team with singer Dean Martin, and the two were an instant sensation. During a time when comedy programs focused heavily on skits and performance material, Martin & Lewis succeeded on their own one-on-one chemistry, earning raves for their on-stage relationship and banter.

The two would take over the nightclub scene, eventually performing on TOAST OF THE TOWN (which would later become THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW) and became regulars on the wildly successful COLGATE COMEDY HOUR. They eventually branched into movies, starring opposite each other in hits like MY FRIEND IRMA, THAT’S MY BOY, THE STOOGE, THE CADDY and finally HOLLYWOOD OR BUST. The two developed a rift when Martin became frustrated with Lewis popularity, and the two performed their last show together in 1956. They would make several public appearances together through the years but didn’t appear on-stage together until 1976 during a Muscular Dystrophy telethon, a reunion arranged by Frank Sinatra.

Lewis’ star keeping shining after the split of Martin & Lewis, as he would go on to a massive solo film career starting with several films in the late 50s like THE SAD SACK and THE GEISHA BOY. He would begin his path to true auteur status in 1960, writing, directing and starring in THE BELLBOY, and would do the same three years later with his biggest hit, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, which was remade 30 years later with Eddie Murphy. He would act and star in films all the way into the 2000s, and along the way would even nab a role in the Martin Scorsese film THE KING OF COMEDY alongside Robert De Niro.

Lewis would continue to write and direct films for decades, and later found another calling as a spokesperson, and later chairman, of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Having hosted benefits to raise money for the association since the early 50s, Lewis began a series of telethons (known as the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon) that ran every Labor Day starting in 1966 and all the way until 2010. The telethons raised over $2.5 billion over the decades, until the telethon was discontinued in 2011 and Lewis became disassociated with the organization.

In 2009 he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars, and in recent years Lewis had slowed down, having only been featured in a few films. He recently had his most high-profile role in years in the movie MAX ROSE as a man who just lost his wife and goes on a quest of discovery.

I wasn’t familiar with Lewis’ film and TV work until later years, but I can’t ever remember a time in my life when I didn’t know his name and at least one thing he was famous for. Whether it was being a TV icon, being in movies, for the telethons, the man’s work and personality transcended reality and became an immortal part of the zeitgeist. Few people worked so hard for so long in this business, and for that alone, he deserves recognition as one of the Hollywood greats. But, in the end, he was just a hilarious guy who loved making people laugh and bringing happiness to the world, and nobody did it quite like him.

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