Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies at 91
Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies at 91
One of the most popular American entertainers of the 1950s and ‘60s, Lewis made his name as the clown behind such quirky comedies as “The Nutty Professor” but also won acclaim as a writer, actor and philanthropist.
The comedy legend, who at the peak of his popularity was among the world’s biggest movie draws, died at his home in Las Vegas early Sunday morning.
“I can sadly confirm that today the world lost one of the most significant human beings,” said his publicist Nancy Kane. “Jerry died peacefully at home of natural causes surrounded by family and friends.”
Fans left flowers at the comedian’s two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Honored with accolades at home and abroad, including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and France’s Legion of Honor, Lewis became known as much for his tireless efforts to promote awareness of Muscular Dystrophy as for his wacky comedy.
Over the course of 45 years, he raised some $2.45 billion for combatting the disease with an annual television event.
Born Joseph Levitch in Newark, New Jersey to two entertainers, Lewis first took center stage at the tender age of five, when he performed “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” He began playing at resorts outside New York that catered to Jewish patrons, known by touring entertainers as the Borscht Circuit.
By age 15, he had assembled his own routine of lipsynching and made the rounds of New York talent agents, though to little avail.
At the age of 20, however, everything changed as Lewis embarked on arguably one of the most successful entertainment partnerships of all time with smooth crooner Dean Martin.
The two fed off each other in now-classic comedy gags, including pratfalls, slapstick and lots of seltzer water, signing a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures.
Tributes poured in Sunday from Hollywood royalty.
“Jerry Lewis was a master. He was a great entertainer. He was a great artist. And he was a remarkable man,” said Martin Scorsese, who directed Lewis in 1983 film “The King of Comedy.”
“That fool was no dummy,” tweeted comic star Jim Carrey, who cited Lewis as an inspiration. “Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was!“
The White House called Lewis “one of our greatest entertainers and humanitarians.”
“Jerry Lewis kept us all laughing for over half a century, and his incredible charity work touched the lives of millions. Jerry lived the American Dream — he truly loved his country, and his country loved him back,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Some of the most notable films in Lewis’ extensive repertoire include “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1959), “The Geisha Boy” (1958) and “Funnybones” (1984).
His box office grosses, spanning nearly 50 years, total $800 million — an impressive figure since movie tickets cost no more than 50 cents during the height of his popularity.
After 17 films together, the Lewis-Martin partnership split in 1956, but Lewis continued his career in comedy and Hollywood. He won acclaim for his dramatic role alongside Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.”
“Be a hit. Score,” was his simple advice to young comedians, in comments once made to Larry King, the celebrity interviewer and a longtime friend. “Get the audience laughing and happy. That’s the secret.”
At other times he was more humble.
“Funny is fragile. It’s elusive,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “It’s elusive to everyone because you’re never going to get a handle on what’s funny.”
Fellow comedian Carol Burnett — who worked with Lewis several times — marveled at his physical gifts.
“His voice could go up several octaves when he was supposed to be scared or insecure,” she told CNN. “Our audience was just dying with laughter, because he did such wonderful things with his body.”
Lewis’ long career was not without controversy, however. News reports over the years have criticized him as volatile and ill-tempered and he was accused more than once of berating fans attending his shows.
In 2007, during the 18th hour of his telethon, the then-81-year-old actor used a homophobic slur in introducing a person off stage — later apologizing for “a bad choice of words.”
Eventually, he was dumped as host of the yearly telethon by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, ending a nearly half-century run amid a growing sense that he had overstayed his welcome.
In recent decades, Lewis had been plagued by health problems, and was declared clinically dead in 1982 after a heart attack. Ten years later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in 1997 found out he had diabetes. A diagnosis of spinal meningitis in 2000 further caused his health to deteriorate.
But he was determined not to let ill health keep him from working as long as possible, including on a Broadway musical adaptation of “The Nutty Professor” as recently as 2011.
“I have to finish what I’ve started,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “I want to do it before I leave.”
Bodybuilding: The pursuit of beauty in war-torn Kabul
KABUL: Hindi music pumps from the speakers as dozens of Afghan men grunt and sweat their way through a workout beneath the watchful eye of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose muscle-bound image hangs from the wall.
The scene inside this Kabul gym is repeated at venues all round the capital, where bodybuilding has become ubiquitous since the fall of the Taliban regime.
The sport has a long tradition in Afghanistan, and was even tolerated by the Taliban when they ruled the country from 1996-2001 — so long as the men wore long trousers as they lifted.
But as security deteriorated and the initial euphoria after the US invasion dissipated into stress, trauma and loss, more and more young men took to the gym.
“Everyone, everywhere in Afghanistan, wants to have a beautiful body shape, and this sport is a favorite sport for every young man,” says Hares Mohammadi, a law and political science student turned champion bodybuilder who is also a trainer at one gym in Kabul.
The 25-year-old, dressed in grey, strikes different poses showing off his carefully honed muscles, and warms up his chest and shoulders ahead of a regional bodybuilding competition.
Despite a surge in bombings and suicide attacks, life goes on, he says, and young Afghans want to “make their mark.” One way is through sporting success.
So, along with Schwarzenegger, other stars from Hollywood and Bollywood such as Sylvester Stallone and Salman Khan are held up as heroes, and the gyms stay busy for hours, filled with music and camaraderie as men tone their bodies to perfection.
It was not always so.
Afghan bodybuilding legend Aziz Arezo reminisces about his time as a teenage lifter, when there were “very, very few people” in the capital who knew anything about the sport.
He himself was only inspired to take it up after seeing movies and posters featuring foreigners such as Schwarzenegger.
“Arnold was my... role model,” he says, smiling as he remembers how expensive postcards featuring the star were.
Speaking to AFP between lifting weights at his small gym in Kabul, Arezo — his physique not quite what it was in his glorious bodybuilding past — reels off his long list of accolades, including being named Afghanistan’s first master sport bodybuilder by the country’s Olympic Committee in the 1970s.
It is a long career, and at times a lonely one.
Though now a trainer himself, guiding hundreds of Afghan youths through lifts and crunches, he never had the guidance of one.
Years ago he made the equipment and dumbbells in his gym from spare car parts as there was no place to buy them.
“I have been a teacher of myself,” he says, adding that his dumbbells are “more efficient than foreign dumbbells.”
Under Taliban rule, he worked for four months in Kabul before eventually fleeing again, fearing their restrictions despite their views on bodybuilding.
“Nowadays, bodybuilding clubs are everywhere in the city, and everyone has made a gym of his own,” he says.
He has trained hundreds of bodybuilders in his career, but is suspicious of new methods employed by many young Afghans, including taking protein supplements to boost their abilities.
“I believe if you do sport or exercise naturally, it is better than protein,” he says, warning of detrimental side effects.
“Before my workout... I was drinking carrot and banana juice, and post-training, I was taking two eggs, three glasses of milk, one bowl of beans and lentils, and it was everyday food for me,” he says.
“Today’s bodybuilding is not natural.”
Regardless of the method, sport can help ease the psychological trauma of nearly four decades of war, says Ali Fitrat, a psychology professor at Kabul University.
Afghans are stressed socially, culturally, financially and politically, he said, citing fighting, insecurity and poor economic conditions as some of the most devastating factors.
As such, he says sports such as bodybuilding can play a “vital role.”
But, like Mohammadi, he also suggests that young men in particular have a strong desire to make their mark.
“They want to show their bodies, they want to attract the attention of the people, and they want to have different looks and to look different than the others,” he said.
However, security continues to deteriorate in Kabul, where both the Taliban and Daesh have stepped up their attacks.
Many fearful residents now limit their movements. Arezo says his gym’s membership has shrunk.
“Nowadays people are concerned about fleeing the country rather than taking up sport,” he says.