Legendary comic and entertainer Jerry Lewis, dead at 91

August 20, 2017 - 1:15 pm

(NEW YORK) -- Legendary comic, entertainer and humanitarian Jerry Lewis -- whose career spanned nightclubs, movies, TV and Broadway -- has died at age 91, ABC News has confirmed.

“Sadly I can confirm that today the world lost one of the most significant human beings of the twentieth century," a rep for Lewis told ABC.

Lewis first found fame in the late 1940s and 1950s, packing nightclubs as half of the comedy team Martin & Lewis, with the late crooner and actor Dean Martin.  They became wildly popular, even starring in feature films including That's My Boy, The Stooge and The Caddy.  

The duo broke up in 1956 when Lewis decided to go solo, writing, directing and starring in future classics like The Ladies Man and The Nutty Professor.  It was then that movie critics in France began hailing Lewis as an auteur and comedy genius, an idea at which many Americans scoffed.  In 2006, he received France's Légion d’Honneur, the nation's highest honor.

As film tastes changed in the beginning of the '70s, Lewis' popularity plummeted.  He struggled both with drug addiction and with his art, unable to score a box office success, prompting him to stop directing.  However, he later won acclaim for his acting roles in movies like Martin Scorsese's 1982 satire The King of Comedy, and TV shows like Wiseguy.  He also starred on Broadway in Damn Yankees and performed one-man shows, the most recent in 2016.

Around the time he went solo, Lewis also hosted a 19-hour telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Assocation, a role that would become as iconic for him as any of his movie or TV appearances. In 1966, he started hosting the MDA's annual Labor Day telethon an served as the MDA chairman for more than 50 years, raising more than $2 billion in the process.  He hosted his last telethon in 2010, after which the MDA board forced him to step down, discontinuing the telethon in 2015.

Lewis was plagued with health issues throughout his life.  He suffered several heart attacks and fought prostate cancer, diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis. 

Lewis was also the father of a pop star: his son Gary Lewis fronted Gary Lewis & the Playboys, which scored '60s hits like "This Diamond Ring."

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