By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
Comedian, innovative filmmaker and former honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades Jerry Lewis died last week at his home in Las Vegas.
Lewis was a bombastic, complex and often contradictory figure both in performance and in life.
After his death, the New York Times called him “a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century.”
His life was never short on controversy, both interpersonal and public, but he was an unquestionable creative force.
Lewis was a slapstick comedy star of screen, stage and radio, well known for films, including “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor,” and for popularizing the filmmaking technique known as “video assist,” in which a closed-circuit television system allows a director to watch early takes on a monitor.
He lived with his wife Patti Palmer and raised six children in a ranch-style home on Amalfi Drive during the 1950s.
He was voted honorary mayor of the Palisades in 1953 and was both popular and highly visible in the community.
It was during an era of some his greatest success, as part of a comedy duo with singer Dean Martin, who served as “straight man” to Lewis’ wild antics. Lewis said he never played any characters who were “more than 9 years old.”
He was eternally popular in France but at home he had his flops.
“The Jerry Lewis Show” survived only 13 weeks on ABC TV in 1963, and his 1972 directorial epic “The Day the Clown Cried,” where he portrayed a “Pied Piper” who calmed children being led into the Nazi gas chambers, has never been released.
He described it as “embarrassingly bad.”
But he regained artistic respect playing an angry comedian taken hostage in Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” in 1983, and continued to perform onstage and in film as recently as 2016.
He was an active philanthropist, serving as chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosting the organization’s Labor Day weekend telethon for more than 40 years.
Lewis had a history of prescription drug addiction and cardiac issues, suffering heart attacks in 1960 when he was 34 years old and two more in 1982 and 2006. The Nevada coroner has listed his cause of death as ischemic cardiomyopathy.
The Library of Congress acquired “The Day the Clown Cried” in 2015, with a promise not to show the film for at least 10 years.
Lewis’ many career honors include two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a place in the French Légion d’Honneur.
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