As one of the most successful performers in show business, with worldwide box office receipts of his films in excess of $800 million, Lewis received global acclaim for his unique ability and style with both comedy and drama. As part of Martin and Lewis and as a solo actor, he was voted Hollywood’s top box-office draw from 1951 to 1965, in later years as the sole comedian. Lewis was born on March 16, 1926, at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, to Russian Jewish parents. His father, Daniel Levitch (1902–1980), born in New York, was a master of ceremonies and vaudeville entertainer who used the professional name Danny Lewis. His mother, Rachel "Rae" Levitch (née Brodsky; 1903–1983) went by the stage name Rae Lewis, was a piano player for the radio station WOR and was her husband's musical director.
Lewis began performing at age five and would often perform alongside his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York. He was a "character" even in his teenage years, pulling pranks in his neighborhood including sneaking into kitchens to steal fried chicken and pies. He dropped out of Irvington High School in the tenth grade. By age 15, he had developed his "Record Act" miming lyrics to songs while a phonograph played offstage. He used the professional name Joey Lewis but soon changed it to Jerry Lewis to avoid confusion with comedian Joe E.
Lewis and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.He landed a gig at a burlesque house in Buffalo, but his performance fell flat and was unable to book any more shows. Lewis worked as a soda jerk and a theater usher for Suzanne Pleshette's father Gene at the Paramount Theater to make ends meet. A veteran burlesque comedian, Max Coleman, who had worked with Lewis' father years before, persuaded him to try again. Irving Kaye, a Borscht Belt comedian, saw Lewis' mime act at Brown’s Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, New York, the following summer, and the audience was so enthusiastic that Kaye became Lewis' manager and guardian for Borscht Belt appearances. During World War II, he was rejected for military service because of a heart murmur. Lewis died at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at 9:15 a.m.
(PDT) on August 20, 2017, at the age of 91. The cause was end-stage cardiac disease and peripheral artery disease. In his will, Lewis left his estate to his second wife of 34 years, SanDee Pitnick, and their daughter, and intentionally excluded his children from his first marriage as well as their descendants. For almost two decades, from the late '40s to the mid-'60s, Lewis was a major force in American popular culture. Widely acknowledged as a comic genius, Lewis influenced successive generations of comedians, comedy writers, performers and filmmakers.
As Lewis was often referenced as the bridge from Vaudeville to modern comedy, Carl Reiner wrote after Lewis’ death, “All comedians watch other comedians, and every generation of comedians going back to those who watched Jerry on the Colgate Comedy Hour were influenced by Jerry. They say that mankind goes back to the first guy...which everyone tries to copy. In comedy that guy was Jerry Lewis.” Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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