Legendary funnyman Jerry Lewis, who for over 70 years made audiences laugh with his wild, crazy humor and became an institution of American entertainment, died this morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.
There is no question that the mere mention of the name Jerry Lewis incites many different opinions in individuals spanning generations, but one thing is clear: regardless of one’s personal taste for the man and his attitude to comedy, there is no denying the sheer power and legend that he exuded, a gravitas that combined old Vaudeville with slapstick and later a slick Las Vegas style, honing elements of Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and Jackie Gleason into an amalgam of a rubbery, limber, anything can happen comedy style that people like Jim Carrey were able to bring to a newer generation. This solidified in every way the importance of what Jerry Lewis meant to so many people.
Larger than life is a term that fits Jerry Lewis like the rubbery glove his persona was and will remain. This is thanks to his classic work with ex-comedy team partner Dean Martin; his solo films; excelling in later films like Martin Scorsese’s black comedy cult classic The King of Comedy with Robert De Niro, and last year’s what is now the cinematic swan song Max Rose; his notorious and mercurial temper and attitude towards the press and many of his peers; and of course, his tireless and endless work for over 50 years raising money for Muscular Dystrophy.
Lewis produced, edited, cast, and wrote (mainly with Bill Richmond) and directed films that are considered classics in many cinematic circles. Films such as The Bellboy, The Patsy, The Ladies Man, and the true arguable Lewis masterpiece, The Nutty Professor, combined visual and verbal gags, along with a kind of pathos and an absolute flair for movie scores in the jazz idiom. They created instantly recognizable pieces that made Lewis such a powerhouse financially at Paramount Pictures at the time that Barney Balaban, the President of the movie studio during that era, once famously remarked, “If Jerry wants to burn down the studio, I’ll be the first to give him a match.”
The Newark, NJ-born entertainer leaves behind a work and a life rich in creativity and amazing bombast. He will not soon be forgotten; the tributes from his peers in the industry past and present, are already flowing and will continue to as the days, weeks, and months go on. All of them will trumpet and sing the praises of a man who truly was a difficult genius, but one who delighted in busting his ass in all four corners of the sensibility of that term to give always the best product. Critics may have vilified him, and most people always are ready for an easy dismissal of the man like slinging a six-shooter out of the holster, but make no mistake, Jerry Lewis represents possibly the last vestige of the old Hollywood, during a time where wearing a tuxedo and singing songs that made Frank Sinatra his bones all while making a complete idiot of yourself whilst doing it and making millions of dollars and generating millions of smiles in the process says a lot, and says something that most weren’t able to do, and frankly, could never do.
Today, a lot of us are crying tears of joy, laughing while remembering a true American classic. Take a moment to remember if you forgot just how powerful this man was, it’ll make you realize how much he will always be. Farewell Jerry, thanks for all the laughs.
RIP Jerry Lewis
March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017
[Source: NY Times]