Jerry Lewis, the unapologetic and legendary comedian who started in the entertainment business in the 1950s, died at his home in Las Vegas on Sunday morning. He was 91.
The news was first reported by a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist and was confirmed to BuzzFeed News by Lewis's agent.
"Legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis passed away peacefully today of natural causes at 91 at his home with family by his side," read a statement from Lewis's family, given to columnist John Katsilometes.
Born Joseph Levitch in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926, Lewis first rose to major notoriety alongside singer Dean Martin, becoming a household name and force in show business in the mid-1950s.
Lewis and Martin began as a stage duo in the 1940s. Their contrasting personas and comedic back-and-forth banter was a huge hit, and paved the way for a string of successful movies starring the unlikely pair. After a 10-year career together, the pair split, and Lewis received a $10 million, 14-film deal with Paramount Pictures, the largest Hollywood deal in history at the time, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Lewis found success with the now-classic 1963 movie The Nutty Professor, which was later remade by Eddie Murphy in the 1990s.
In the following decades, Lewis also became the host of the Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a role he would hold for more than 55 years. He raised more than $2 billion and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for his work. Outside the US, Lewis also enjoyed immense popularity in France, where he received the Legion of Honor award in 1983.
Lewis battled numerous health issues over the last few decades, starting in 1983, when he had open-heart surgery. In the early 1990s, he had surgery for prostate cancer, and in 2006, he suffered a heart attack. He subsequently battled lung disease for years, The Hollywood Reporter also noted.
In the last decade, Lewis, who was known for his cranky persona and oversize ego, garnered controversy for his political and social views — most notably in 2007, when he used a gay slur during the 18th hour of his Labor Day telethon. He later apologized for the incident, saying he "obviously made a bad choice of words."
Lewis also voiced his distaste for female comedians several times over the last few decades, and in 2015 told the Catholic broadcaster EWTN that "refugees should stay where the hell they are."
“Hey, nobody has worked harder for the human condition than I have, but they’re not part of the human condition," he continued in the 2015 interview. "If 11 guys in that group of 10,000 are ISIS, how can I take the chance? I don’t want to lose another Frenchman or another Englishman." In the same interview, he also praised Donald Trump, then a candidate for president.
Lewis is survived by his wife and seven children.
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