Joseph Levitch aka Joey Lewis passed away peacefully in his Las Vegas home this weekend at the age of 91. The world knew him as Jerry Lewis the comedy entertainer and face of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.
Lewis began his career at age five in what was often referred to as the Borscht Belt in New York’s Catskill mountains where his parents were entertainers. As an adult, he paired up with Dean Martin and made a living as a prosperous and prolific 20th-century performer. Martin played the part of the cool, smooth operator while Lewis, as his sidekick, played an eccentric with a silly grin and high-pitched voice.
His body of artistic work was copious and included live performances, Broadway performances as well as numerous movies – many of which carried off his slapstick with what many criticized as rather insipid comedic performances.
Lewis performed on Broadway in the famed “Damn Yankees” in 1994. Among his biggest fans were the French people who awarded him the Legion d’Honneur, in 2006. Mr. Lewis was also paid tribute to by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The well-known entertainer parlayed his celebrity status into charity work and was perhaps best known for his 44 years as host of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. He was an avid philanthropist who also founded “Jerry’s House” – a non-profit designed to help children suffering from traumatic personal circumstances.
While Lewis endeavored to stay out of politics, late in his life a few of his political leanings became known: On the EWTN network in 2015, he said he was opposed to letting Syrian refugees into the country because some of them could be ISIS members. He also lambasted President Obama for his handling of terrorism but said that Donald Trump would likely make a good president because he was “a showman.”
Toward the end, Lewis suffered from a host of health problems including back issues, two heart attacks, and sundry other ailments. Love him or dislike his type of humor, Lewis was an iconic figure in 20th-century American entertainment and will be remembered fondly by many.
He was married twice and is survived by his second wife SanDee Pitnick and six of his seven children.