Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies aged 91 | News | DW | 20.08.2017
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Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies aged 91

US comedian Jerry Lewis has died in Las Vegas at the age of 91, US media report. Lewis, who died of natural causes, was one of the most successful and revered actors in the history of Hollywood.

Jerry Lewis, Film The Ladies Man, 1961 (picture-alliance/Everett Collection)

Jerry Lewis in 1961's The Ladies Man

"Legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis passed away peacefully today of natural causes at 91 at his home with family by his side," his family said in statement for Las Vegas Review Journal on Sunday.

Jerry Lewis in dem Film Der verrückte Professor (picture-alliance/dpa/Everett Collection)

Lewis in "The Nutty Professor"

Lewis, one of the most successful Hollywood comedians, had a career spanning vaudeville, radio, television, film and philanthropy. He became the highest paid actor in Hollywood with hits such as The Bell Boy, Cinderfella and The Nutty Professor. His other popular films included 1983's The King of Comedy, in which he played a talk show host stalked by Robert de Niro.

Lewis' 10-year partnership with actor Dean Martin saw them star in 16 films and achieve huge box office success. He continued to be successful on Broadway and in 1995 became the highest-paid star in its history.

His last big-screen appearance was in the title role of the 2013 film "Max Rose," playing an aging jazz pianist who questions his marriage after learning that his wife of 65 years may have been unfaithful.

It was his first movie in 18 years, following the 1995 comedy "Funny Bones." That same year, he made his Broadway debut in a revival of the musical "Damn Yankees."

USA Schauspieler & Komiker Jerry Lewis (Imago/United Archives)

Lewis was one of the most successful Hollywood comedians

Successful and revered

Lewis modeled himself after earlier filmmakers such as Charlie Chaplin and was revered by famous Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese and Jerry Seinfeld.

"I learned from my dad that when you walk in front of an audience, they are the kings and queens, and you're but the jester," Lewis said last year. "And if you don't think that way, you're going to get very, very conceited."

Lewis was born in March 1926 in New Jersey into a family of entertainers - his father a vaudeville performer, his mother a piano player.

"I was tall, skinny, gawky; cute but funny-looking. With the voice God had given me, I certainly wasn't going to be a singer like my dad, with his Al Jolson baritone. I always saw the humor in things, the joke possibilities. At the same time, I didn't have the confidence to stand on a stage and talk," the late comedian wrote in his 2005 memoir Dean and Me: A Love Story.

Charitable pursuits

US actor Jerry Lewis

Even in later years, audiences gathered to see the legendary entertainer and philanthropist

Lewis was not only known as an entertainer, but also as a celebrity who gave back. He was the ringmaster, emcee, and public face of the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, raising funds for "Jerry's Kids," children who suffer from the degenerative condition. He concluded each daylong telethon with his personal anthem, the ballad "You'll Never Walk Alone." From their inception in the 1960s, the telethons raised over $1.5 billion dollars for the charity. In 2011 he stepped down as host, but remained chair of the association he had joined 60 years ago. 

shs/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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