Las Vegas Strip Honors Jerry Lewis

Bright lights dimmed on the Las Vegas Strip at 7:49 p.m. Monday, August 21, solar eclipse day, honoring comedian, actor, philanthropist and Las Vegas resident Jerry Lewis (shown at the Casino Entertainment Awards in 2015) who died August 20. Known for his crazy film antics and partnership with Dean Martin, Lewis raised $2.5 billion hosting the MDA Labor Day Telethon from 1966 to 2010.

At the Las Vegas Strip at 7:49 p.m., Monday, August 21, the day of the solar eclipse, bright and flashing signs gave way to a black and white image of Jerry Lewis, who died the previous day at age 91. Accompanying the image of Lewis, smiling and wearing a tuxedo were the words, “International comedic icon, Las Vegas resident, headliner and philanthropist.”

Lyrics from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” accompanied the tribute. Lewis sang the song during the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, which he hosted from 1966 to 2010, raising $2.5 billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and “Jerry’s kids.”

Publicist Candi Cazau said Lewis died of natural causes with his family by his bedside.

Lewis, born Joey Levitch, joined his parents’ vaudeville act at the age of 5. When he was 20, he teamed up with singer Dean Martin. Lewis went on to star in “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor.” He was featured in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” and appeared as himself in Billy Crystal’s “Mr. Saturday Night.”

In the 1990s, Lewis starred as the Devil in the Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees.” And following a 20-year hiatus, Lewis returned to film to star in the independent drama “Max Rose,” released in 2016. “I believe, in my own way, that I say something on film. I’m getting to those who probably don’t have the mentality to understand what ‘A Man for All Seasons’ is all about, plus many who did understand it. I am not ashamed or embarrassed at how seemingly trite or saccharine something in my films will sound. I really do make films for my great-great-grandchildren and not for my fellows at the Screen Directors Guild or for the critics,” Lewis wrote.

His fundraising efforts as the host of the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association earned Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2009 Oscar telecast. However, the telethon was criticized for exploiting children. , an honor he said “touches my heart and the very depth of my soul.” Mike Ervin, a poster boy for muscular dystrophy in the 1960s, made the documentary “The Kids Are All Alright,” in which he alleged that Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association had treated him and others as objects of pity rather than real people. “He and his telethon symbolize an antiquated and destructive 1950s charity mentality,” Ervin wrote in 2009. Lewis responded, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in your house!”

Frequently considered to be more popular in France than the U.S., the French government awarded Lewis the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1983 and Commander of Arts and Letters the following year. Film critic Andrew Sarris said, “The fact that Lewis lacks verbal wit on the screen doesn’t particularly bother the French.”

The unlikely duo of the wacky Lewis and the smooth Martin debuted their act at the Atlantic City’s 500 Club in 1946. It was a flop. They then perfected an improvisational style that drew raves from New York columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan. Hollywood producer Hal Wallis saw them at New York’s Copacabana and signed them to a film contract.

But in the mid-1950s, their partnership began to wear. They split for good on July 24, 1956 and remained estranged for years. However, Martin made a dramatic, surprise appearance on Lewis’ telethon in 1976. Martin died in 1995. Afterwards, Lewis said they had renewed their friendship.

After splitting with Martin, Lewis embarked on a solo film career, including Rock-a-bye Baby, Cinderfella, The Disorderly Orderly, The Geisha Boy and Who’s Minding the Store? For The Bellboy, he served as producer, director, writer and star, like his idol Charlie Chaplin. He also directed the 1963 The Nutty Professor, The Patsy, The Errand Boy, The Family Jewels and The Big Mouth. He made a brief appearance in Eddie Murphy’s remake of The Nutty Professor.

His wife, band singer Patti Palmer, sued for divorce in 1982 after 36 years of marriage. She claimed Lewis was an adulterer and drug addict who abused their children. His son Gary formed the pop group Gary Lewis & the Playboys which recorded several hits in 1965-66. In his late 50s, Lewis had a daughter with his second wife, former flight attendant Sandra Pitnick.