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Jerry Lewis (16 March 1926 – 20 August 2017)

For many movie lovers, the quintessential Jerry Lewis performance involved a plethora of facial contortions, a unique range of vocal gymnastics, and a willingness to appear very, very, very silly. As a performer, Lewis was irrepressible, a mercurial performer who could delight and enthuse audiences in a way that nobody else could match or improve upon. In short, he was the very definition of unique.

He began his career at an early age, performing alongside his parents at venues in the Catskill Mountains in New York state. After World War II, Lewis met a singer named Dean Martin, and together they formed a double act that lasted until 1956. Their act began in night clubs, with Lewis’s clumsy busboy interrupting Martin’s singing. It was successful, and paved the way for radio shows, TV guest spots, and of course, movies. Lewis and Martin made sixteen pictures together, but as time went on, Lewis’s star waxed higher than Martin’s, and the movies began to focus more on Lewis’s comedy antics than they did on the pair as a team.

The duo’s break up worked for both of them, but for Lewis it brought him to a whole new level of stardom. He became a successful recording artist, appeared by himself on several TV shows, and began a second movie career as a leading actor, appearing in a variety of comedies that he often wrote or co-wrote himself, and which established even further his credentials as one of the best comic performers of the Fifties and Sixties. But his own particular brand of humour began to lose favour with audiences during the mid-Sixties, and the projects he initiated failed to reach the level of success he’d achieved over the previous twenty years. In the late Sixties, he taught movie directing at the University of Southern California; two of his pupils were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. During the Seventies, Lewis was more active on the stage, and he didn’t return to making movies until the early Eighties.

His acting career over the last thirty-five years was sporadic, yet full of interesting choices, and he gained a further reputation as a dramatic supporting actor. One area in which he maintained a distinctive consistency was in his role as a humanitarian. Lewis hosted a series of fund-raising telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association during the Fifties, and again between 1966 and 2010. They were incredibly successful shows, and over the course of fifty years, Lewis helped raise over $2.6 billion in donations. And in France – still – he is regarded as a comic genius. Lewis was a versatile performer who did things his own way, and was frequently right for doing so. And besides, anyone who encouraged Christopher Walken to pursue a career in show business can’t be that bad.

1 – The Stooge (1951)

2 – Living It Up (1954)

3 – The Geisha Boy (1958)

4 – The Bellboy (1960)

5 – The Nutty Professor (1963)

6 – Who’s Minding the Store? (1963)

7 – The King of Comedy (1982)

8 – Arizona Dream (1993)

9 – Funny Bones (1995)

10 – Max Rose (2013)

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