Jerry Lewis, the frantic funnyman whose knack for broad comedy took him from the Borscht Belt of upstate New York to the pinnacle of 20th-century stardom, has died, according to his manager. He was 91.
“The world has lost one of the great human beings of the 20th century. It is a very sad day,” Mark Rozzano, Lewis’s manager, said.
Lewis first gained fame as half of the Martin and Lewis comedy duo, a partnership with singer Dean Martin that was among the most celebrated pairings in show business. Onstage, Lewis delighted audiences with goofball shenanigans while Martin, his foil, played the cool troubadour. When Martin initiated a duet, his partner broke into the wrong tune. Asked to sing it “in unison,” Lewis objected: “No, I want to sing it here in the club!”
Lewis described the act as “a handsome man and a monkey,” and it kept audiences in stitches for a decade, until the entertainers dissolved the partnership amid acrimony in 1956.
After their breakup, Lewis honed his role as the bumbling goof in films such as “The Bellboy,” “The Disorderly Orderly” and “Who’s Minding the Store?” He also used sound and action to fashion a new form of physical comedy—struggling with squeaky shoes or miming a switchblade fight—that prefigured the work of comedians who followed. Lewis’s manic energy is echoed in the antics of Robin Williams, his physical gyrations in the films of Jim Carrey and his pratfalls in the stumbles of Michael Richards’s clumsy Kramer in TV’s “Seinfeld.”