Jerry Lewis, the slapstick-loving comedian, innovative filmmaker and generous fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, died Sunday after a brief illness, said his publicist, Candi Cazau. He was 91.
Cazau would not elaborate on the illness from which Lewis was suffering.
Lewis first gained fame for his frenzied comedy-and-music act with singer Dean Martin. When that ended in the mid-1950s, Lewis went solo, and by the early ’60s, he had become a top draw in movies such as “The Bellboy,” “The Nutty Professor” and “The Patsy.” Along the way, he pioneered the use of videotape and closed-circuit monitors in moviemaking, a now-standard technique called video assist.
He first helped raise money for muscular dystrophy in a telethon in 1956. He was so successful, and so devoted to the cause, that children affected by the disease became known as “Jerry’s kids.” The telethon, long known as “The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon,” began airing on Labor Day weekend in 1966, and Lewis served as host until 2011. Celebs who co-hosted and performed with Lewis included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joan Crawford, John Lennon and Yoko Ono,’ to name a few.
His performances earned him not one, but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for TV and one for film, and a lifetime achievement award in 2009 by the Academy of of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
He is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick and their adopted daughter.
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