LOS ANGELES: Jerry Lewis, the high prince of low-brow comedy on stage and in film as well as a fund-raising powerhouse with his annual Labor Day telethon, died on Sunday at the age of 91, his family said.
Lewis died of natural causes at his home in Las Vegas on Sunday morning with his family by his side, the family said in a statement.
He had been hospitalized for about five weeks beginning in early June for a urinary tract infection, keeping him from traveling to Toronto to appear in a film, his spokeswoman, Candi Cazau, told Reuters by telephone.
Lewis rose to fame as the goofy foil to suave partner Dean Martin. At home, he was both loved and derided, while in France, he became a comic icon.
He once summed up his career by saying “I’ve had great success being a total idiot” and said the key was maintaining a certain child-like quality.
“I look at the world through a child’s eyes because I’m 9,” he told Reuters in a November 2002 interview. “I stayed that way. I made a career out of it. It’s a wonderful place to be.”
Jim Carrey, an actor whose style owed a heavy debt to Lewis, paid tribute to the comedian soon after news of his death.
“That fool was no dummy,” Carrey wrote. “Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was!”
Lewis was 87 when his last movie, “Max Rose,” came out in 2013, playing a jazz pianist who questions his marriage after learning his wife of 65 years may have been unfaithful.
The son of vaudeville entertainers, Lewis became a star in the early 1950s as Martin’s comic sidekick in nightclubs, on television and in 16 movies. At their height, they set off the kind of fan hysteria that once surrounded Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.
Their decade-long partnership ended with a bitter split and Lewis went on to star in his own film comedies.
Lewis’ movie persona, like the character he created in the act with Martin, varied little from film to film. He was zany and manic, forever squealing, grimacing and flailing his way through situations beyond his control.