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Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies at 91

Jerry Lewis, the ‘king of comedy’ who dominated 1950s Hollywood, has died at the age of 91

21 August 2017, 7:47am
Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis
Entertainer Jerry Lewis, one of Hollywood's most successful comedians, has died aged 91.

A family statement said the American comic died on Sunday morning of natural causes at his home in Las Vegas.

"I can sadly confirm that today the world lost one of the most significant human beings," his publicist Nancy Kane said. "Jerry died peacefully at home of natural causes surrounded by family and friends."

Lewis had perfected a goofy brand of slapstick that endeared him to millions over the course of a career spanning six decades.

One of the most popular American entertainers of the 1950s and '60s, Lewis made his name as the clown behind such quirky comedies as "The Nutty Professor" but also won acclaim as a writer, actor and philanthropist.

Born Joseph Levitch in Newark, New Jersey to two New York City entertainers, Lewis first took center stage at the tender age of five, when he performed "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" He began playing at resorts outside New York City that catered to Jewish patrons, known by touring entertainers as the Borscht Circuit.

By age 15, he had assembled his own routine of lipsynching and made the rounds of New York talent agents, though to little avail.

At the age of 20, however, everything changed as Lewis embarked on arguably one of the most successful entertainment partnerships of all time with smooth crooner Dean Martin. The 10-year partnership saw them star in 16 films and achieve huge box office success.

He became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, chalking up hits such as The Bell Boy, Cinderfella and The Nutty Professor.

Other notable successes included The King of Comedy in 1983, in which he played a talk show host stalked by Robert de Niro.

Honored with accolades at home and abroad, including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and France's Legion of Honor, Lewis became known as much for his tireless efforts to promote awareness of Muscular Dystrophy as for his wacky comedy.

Over the course of 45 years, he raised some 2.45 billion dollars for combatting the disease with an annual television event.

Figures from the world of film lined up to pay tribute.

Whoopi Goldberg posted: “Jerry Lewis passed today, millions around the world loved him, millions of kids he helped w/his telethons. R.I.P. &condolences 2 his family.”

Robert De Niro, who starred with Lewis in the 1982 film The King of Comedy, said in a statement: “Jerry was a pioneer in comedy and film. And he was a friend. I was fortunate to have seen him a few times over the past couple of years. Even at 91, he didn’t miss a beat . Or a punchline. You’ll be missed.”

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