Claimed he was thrown out of high school for punching out his principal who had offended him with an anti-Semitic remark, and then went directly into vaudeville. An episode of Seinfeld (1989) makes use of plot point based on Lewis' (alleged) real-life stratagem of secretly leaving an audiotape recorder running in a briefcase he intentionally leaves behind him in meetings to see what some people may be saying about him.
Had open heart surgery (1983) and underwent surgery for prostate cancer (1992).
Jerry took his last name from his actor-father's stage name.
He was known as a clothes horse. He gave away suits rather than having them cleaned and refused to wear a pair of socks more than once.
He was presented the French Legion of Honor (1984) and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1977).
He taught a film class at the University of California.
He became the highest paid performer in Broadway history for his role as the Devil in "Damn Yankees" (1995).
Son of Danny Lewis.
Oldest son Gary Lewis and his soft-rock group Gary Lewis & The Playboys had several pop hits in the 1960s, including "This Diamond Ring". At the height of his recording career Gary and Jerry appeared together on NBC TV's Hullabaloo (1965).
He and Dean Martin were the world's top box-office earners from 1950-1956. On his own, Lewis also ruled as #1 movie draw in 1957, 1959, and 1961-1964.
Nominated for Nobel Prize for his 50 years raising money to fight muscular dystrophy.
First filmmaker to develop and use video-assist device on location.
Wrote 10 scripts in 10 years.
Said there was no gap between comedy and tragedy.
In Italy, Lewis has been given the nickname 'Picchiatello' (which means something like "nut" or "crazy"). At least three of his movies use the word in their Italian title: You're Never Too Young (1955) which became "Il Nipote Picchiatello" ("The Crazy Nephew"), Hardly Working (1980) ("Bentornato Picchiatello", or "Welcome Back Crazy") and Cracking Up (1983) ("Qua La Mano Picchiatello". pr "Shake My Hand, Crazy").
He was a huge fan of 'The Catcher in the Rye' and strongly identified with the main character Holden Caulfield. He planned to direct a movie version but failed to acquire the rights from the book's famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger.
Suffered from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis.
Children with Patti Lewis: Gary Lewis (born 1945), Ronald (born 1949), Scott (born 1956), Christopher (born 1957), Anthony (born 1959) and Joseph (born 1964). With SanDee Pitnick a daughter Danielle (born 1992).
In 1969, Lewis announced an ambitious project of franchising a chain of Jerry Lewis Cinemas. A firm believer in family entertainment, he said that the one inviolate rule of the chain would be that nothing other than family-oriented films would be shown. The theaters were to be state-of-the-art, easy to operate and franchised to individuals who could meet the chain's investment requirements. However, a combination of changing tastes in popular entertainment and management problems caused the project to collapse within just a few years. Several lawsuits between Lewis and his associates were settled out of court.
The character Prof. John Frink in The Simpsons (1989) is based on his role of Prof. Julius Kelp in The Nutty Professor (1963). He also did the voice of Prof. John Frink Sr. in "he Simpsons" episode "Treehouse of Horror XIV", segment "Finkenstein". Also, some of Krusty the Clown's off-stage antics are based on him.
Starred with Dean Martin on "The Martin and Lewis Show" (1949-1953), which aired on NBC radio. They first appeared together in the films My Friend Irma (1949) and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950). The Martin and Lewis comedy team were one of a series of rotating hosts of the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950).
October 13, 2003, he entered a Las Vegas hospital to kick steroids used in the treatment of his pulmonary fibrosis.
Wrote, produced, and acted in the film The Day the Clown Cried (1972) which, because of legal difficulties, has not been released as of this date (March 2009). The film is a tale of a clown in Auschwitz during World War II.
Was teamed up with Dean Martin from 1946-1956.
His film class students included Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Sammy Davis Jr. called him the "greatest white faker" as a dancer.
Was voted the 50th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Although he is at the bottom of this list, perhaps rather shockingly, Charles Chaplin didn't even make the list.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985". Pages 586-593. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company (1988).
Came upon his long-time theme song, "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody)", by accident. In 1956, he had to cover for an indisposed Judy Garland at a performance in Las Vegas, which included singing several of her songs. His performance of "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby", using Garland's arrangement, went over so well with the audience that Lewis has used it as his theme song ever since. He had a #10 hit recording with the song in 1957 and launched a recording career.
His recording "Jerry Lewis Just Sings" (American Decca: 1956) was a best-seller, securing a place in the Top 20 on the Billboard Album Charts, launching a Top 10 single and a recording career. Biographer Arthur Marx once likened his singing to "the croaking of a parched parrot"; however, it is believed that this referred only to the singing voice of his many comic characters.
On March 20, 1965, he suffered a serious back injury while performing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, resulting in chronic pain. He became addicted to the prescription painkiller Percodan, but says he has been off the medication since 1978. He used an implant device that dulls nerve impulses and can be controlled by a hand-held remote control.
Although critics usually referred to him as "the little guy" throughout his career, Lewis was around the same height or slightly taller than Dean Martin (Dean was around 5' 11'' and Jerry was 6'). To try to make himself look more diminutive next to his partner, Lewis frequently hunched and also shaved a few inches off the heels of his shoes and added them to Martin's.
Besides Dean Martin, Lewis said the closest friend he ever had was Sammy Davis Jr. Davis would call Lewis in tears at times because of the racial slurs people would say to him about his relationship with Swedish actress May Britt.
Claimed to have never seen Hollywood or Bust (1956), the last film he made with his partner, Dean Martin, saying it was much too painful for him to watch.
Contrary to belief, the 1976 MDA telethon was not the first reconciliation of the legendary comedy team. They appeared spontaneously on ABC's The Joey Bishop Show (1961) and then ran off through the audience. In 1960, four years after they separated, they briefly reunited. Both were performing their own separate acts at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, a club they frequently played while they were together. Lewis caught Martin's closing act and Martin introduced his former partner to the audience, bringing him on stage. For about 15 minutes, they joked a little and sang a duet of "Come Back to Me". Unfortunately, the reunion was only a one-time thing. Later when Lewis was too exhausted to perform his act, Martin generously replaced him.
Encouraged Christopher Walken to act. Walken met Lewis while he was on The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950) and Lewis suggested to the young boy that he pursue a career in show business.
Norman Lear (creator of All in the Family (1971)) co-wrote many of the episodes of Martin and Lewis's show The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950).
Said his favorite Martin and Lewis film was The Stooge (1951) because "...it came closest to capturing what Dean and I had as a team".
Some have said that if Lewis hadn't pursued a career in show business, he would have been a professional baseball player for the Dodgers. He played with the team a few times at charity events and was apparently very good.
Was best friends with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. They starred in Lewis' home movies after Curtis complained about the roles he was being offered by his studio.
Was close friends with comic Lenny Bruce.
Was offered the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot (1959), directed by his friend Billy Wilder. He declined because he didn't want to dress in drag. The role, of course, eventually went to Jack Lemmon and he received an Oscar nomination for his performance. Lewis says that Lemmon would send him chocolates every year to thank him and he regretted not taking the role.
Pronounced clinically dead from a massive heart attack, after completing The King of Comedy (1982) with Robert De Niro. [December 1982]
Society of Operating Cameramen, (SOC) Honorary Member (1981) Lewis was honored for his contribution and development the first "Video Assist" for the motion picture camera in 1966. This allowed him to view his performance while directing himself in his films. This is used extensively today in filmmaking, known as "Video Village".
Lewis was unable to perform at a planned London charity event at the London Palladium. He was the headlining act, and he was introduced but did not appear. He had suddenly become unwell, apparently with heart problems. He was subsequently taken to the hospital. Some months thereafter, Lewis began an arduous, months-long therapy that weaned him off prednisone and enabled him to return to work. [September 2001]
He and Dean Martin recorded a radio spot endorsing a product, "Tuck Tape", an alternative brand of "Scotch Tape" and noticing the recording tape for the commercial was still rolling, decided to improvise additional radio spots, with Jerry slipping profanities into his dialog. The unedited master recording was surreptitiously taken from the studio and made into a "bootleg" record that sold briskly among collectors.
For his 80th birthday in 2006, he was given a medal and induction into the Legion of Honor by France, given the honorary title of "Legion Commander". He apologized for not speaking French at the ceremony but said that "even if the French people cannot hear my language, they have always heard my heart".
Lewis changed white sweat socks several times a day, always putting on a brand-new pair, and he gave the used ones to charity.
On June 11, 2006, he suffered a minor heart attack on the flight home to San Diego which caused him to postpone his comeback in Las Vegas.
Appointed Honorary Ambassador of Peace for the Harvey Ball Foundation along with Brooke Shields, Jackie Chan, A.V.T. Shankardass, Prince Albert of Monaco, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Phil Collins, Jimmy Buffett, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Heather Mills, Yoko Ono, Patch Adams, Sergei Khrushchev and Winnie Mandela.
He was nominated in the inaugural 2007 New Jersey Hall of Fame for his services to entertainment and to charity.
His idol was Al Jolson.
He was elected into the 2008 New Jersey Hall of Fame for his services to Arts and Entertainment and charity.
Was one of the co-hosts of what may have been the only Academy Awards ceremony that actually ended earlier than expected, by almost twenty minutes - The 31st Annual Academy Awards (1959). He and several other celebrities gallantly tried everything they could to improvise and fill the extra time. NBC mercifully cut the broadcast short to air a short film about target shooting until the next scheduled program began, which in most cases was the local news.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard; and for Television at 6150 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Patti Lewis (aka Patti Palmer) was his first wife's stage name. Her birth name was Esther Calonico. When Jerry Lewis first met her in Detroit in August 1944, she was a singer with Ted Fio Rito and his Orchestra. Shortly thereafter, she joined Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra.
Lewis always wore tiny lady's sized wristwatches, usually made by Cartier. They are easy to spot in all of his films.
As a young Catskill comic, he recorded "I Love a Murder Mystery", a speaking novelty record, in the early 1940s.
In 1956, in an attempt to dispel rumors of their impending breakup, Dean Martin and Jerry performed "Side by Side" (We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money) on one of the last of their many appearances on their variety show The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950).
He once played first base in an exhibition game for five innings for the Houston Astros.
His classic character Julius Kelp from The Nutty Professor (1963) was cleverly parodied by Joe Piscopo in 1984, on Joe's self-titled HBO TV Special.
Twice voted Best Foreign Director by the French film critics.
An acclaimed chronicle of the Martin and Lewis partnership, "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself): The Story of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis" by Arthur Marx was published by Hawthorne in 1974.
Was good friends with US President John F. Kennedy.
While filming Cinderfella (1960), he suffered a mild heart attack immediately after running up the stairs and was in an oxygen tent at Mount Sinai hospital 30 minutes later. He ran up 66 steps in 8 seconds.
Was a registered Republican.
Hosted the annual Muscular Dystrophy marathon, but shocked audiences with his bloated and infirm appearance, due to treatment for a pulmonary illness (2002).
Cannes, France: The annual Film Festival is officially paying an 'homage' tribute to Lewis and his life's work with a screening of his latest film Max Rose (2013). [May 2013]
The Los Angeles Times revealed on August 5, 2015 that the Library of Congress received a collection of Jerry Lewis work from himself, including The Day the Clown Cried (1972). Lewis made the Library agree not to screen the movie for ten years. If this is true, the film will be available again in 2025.
Interviewed in "The Great Comedians Talk About Comedy" by Larry Wilde (1968).
During the late 1950s, Lewis' stint on his NBC Burbank color television network series, his studio 2 dressing room was located in the lower basement level of the stage 2 facility. Incidental, this stage originally had been built for the MGM swimming film star Esther Williams; the stage was built with a swimming pool (pit with camera ports). NBC's Studio 2 was adjacent to Studio 4 with both studios sharing a common central corridor. Studio 2 and Studio 4 television show's guest performer's dressing rooms were located on each side of the studio's common center corridor. The each studio's much larger "star dressing rooms" were located in the basement of each stage. During a break between the rehearsal and taping of Lewis' comedy television series, Lewis (age 32) decided to practice his golf swing in his dressing room. Driving the golf balls into the wall-board soundproof walls, the golf ball divot indentations made Jerry's dressing room walls look like Al Capone had cut loose with a Thompson sub-machine gun. Upon completion of the show, the next day, NBC facilities had to replace the dressing room walls and redecorate Jerry Lewis' star dressing room. NBC's generous price paid for a network's featured star's boredom and for a pricey spoiled entertainer.
Diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (2001) and treated for pneumonia and a damaged heart (2006).
Suffered a heart attack while filming Cinderfella (1960).
Acting mentor of Sandra Bernhard.
After 21 years in semi-retirement (following the release of Funny Bones (1995)), he made his big screen return with two 2016 theatrical releases: The Trust (2016) and Max Rose (2013).
Jerry was so scared of working with the African lion Zamba, that he had gun in his pocket for protection when they were in the movie The Ladies Man (1961).
Had Ralph Helfer, the owner and trainer of the African lion Zamba, thrown off the set of The Ladies Man (1961) and barred from working at the studio for six months because he got up into his face and shouted at him because he found out that Jerry had a gun for protection when he did his scene with his Lion.
Lewis and comedy partner Dean Martin were in 17 feature films together: My Friend Irma (1949), My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), At War with the Army (1950), That's My Boy (1951), The Stooge (1951), Sailor Beware (1952), Jumping Jacks (1952), Road to Bali (1952), Scared Stiff (1953), The Caddy (1953), Money from Home (1953), Living It Up (1954), 3 Ring Circus (1954), You're Never Too Young (1955), Artists and Models (1955), Pardners (1956) and Hollywood or Bust (1956).
He was the son of Rachel (Brodsky) and Daniel Levitch. His paternal grandparents were Polish Jewish immigrants, and his mother was a Russian Jewish immigrant.
Friends with Sammy Davis Jr., Rose Marie, Steve Lawrence, Bill Cosby and Dane Cook.
Left his entire estate to his widow SanDee Pitnick, with their adopted daughter Danielle second in line to inherit.
He made a point of disowning all of his sons and their families, per his 2012 will. ""I have intentionally excluded Gary Lewis, Ronald Lewis, Anthony Joseph Lewis, Christopher Joseph Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis and Joseph Christopher Lewis and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention that they shall receive no benefits hereunder." He also refused to update his will to reflect that Joseph succumbed to an addiction to drugs in 2009.