By: Reis Myers McCormick
Entertainer, or Humanitarian? Jerry Lewis’ epic life spanned nine decades (1926-2017), eight of which he spent making us laugh, six of which he spent raising billions of dollars for Muscular Dystrophy.
Entertainment in his blood
Jerry Lewis came from a family of entertainers. He joined his parents onstage for the first time at the ripe old age of five. His mother said “Don’t tiptoe! Whatever you do, don’t tiptoe through life!” And then she threw him into the spotlight to sing. He dropped out of high school at 16 and began performing his wildly creative brand of slapstick in night clubs.
Perhaps his most memorable decade was the one he spent making comedy magic with his partner, Dean Martin. Then, after a monumental night club and television comedy career with Dean, Jerry Lewis took on Hollywood as a director and/or actor in over fifty films. He changed movie-making forever when he traveled to Japan to make a deal with Sony for the first videotape and closed-circuit monitors ever on a film set, so he could watch instant replay – something we call ‘video assist’ and take for granted now.
The Healing Gift of Laughter
On the healing power of laughter, Jerry says “the kid,” his world-famous alter ego, is the only reason he lived so long, keeping him going through a lifetime of chronic pain from a failed pratfall on a television show. His work has helped heal countless grateful fans, too. Perhaps his generosity of spirit can be distilled down to one comment: “While making money entertaining the public, in any audience there’s a half dozen people that need us more than the rest. I never forget that they’re there.”
Good-bye, Jerry Lewis.
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