There are few comedians and actors who have achieved the kind of colorful and lengthy career that Jerry Lewis enjoyed. On Sunday, Lewis' family issued a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal announcing that the legendary entertainer passed away at 9:15 a.m. at home in Las Vegas. How Jerry Lewis died was reportedly from natural causes, according to his family's statement. However, the comedian has faced many health struggles in the past. He was 91 years old. The star was perhaps best known for directing and starring in films like The Bellboy and The Nutty Professor, and made a name in the industry with his comedic partnership with singer Dean Martin. His work as a chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association is another hallmark of his career, and for his half-century worth of efforts toward fighting the neuromuscular disease, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.
Lewis' death was announced by John Katsilometes, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who issued a statement from the star's family on Twitter. According to The Hollywood Reporter, publicist Candi Cazau confirmed the news. Additionally, his publicist Nancy Kane released the following statement to Bustle:
"He died peacefully of natural causes at 91. He was surrounded by his family and loved ones at home. "
While the star reportedly passed from natural causes, he had dealt with serious health issues in the past. His many battles included an open-heart surgery in 1983, treatment for prostate cancer, treatment for a dependence on prescription drugs, a heart attack, and an ongoing struggle with chronic lung disease. The considerable obstacles that Lewis faced did not stop him from having a long and influential career in film and theatre.
The comedian's career began in the early 1950s, and his partnership with Martin remains one of the most iconic pairings in the history of show business. The two rode their physical comedy routine to success on the radio, television, and in theaters and nightclubs. Fans took the duo's bitter and impromptu split hard, but Lewis took the opportunity to launch a prolific solo career. His transition from stage comedian to writer, director, and producer was unprecedented, and would inspire generations of comedians, directors, writers, and actors to take on multiple roles in their work.
The brand of physical comedy that Lewis became known for was something of his own invention, and his over the top energy paved the way for many contemporary comic actors. "You see Jerry Lewis running up to the cameras and into the audience and breaking the rules right off the bat,” said David Schwartz, chief film curator at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York, told the Washington Post. “It makes Robin Williams look sedate.” Lewis' onscreen antics often resulted in trips the hospital, and he dealt with the repercussions of these physical roles on his body throughout his adult lifetime.
While his roles in films like The Nutty Professor were defining moments in comedy. Lewis was largely panned by the American critics of his time, but ultimately becoming a force in modern cinema, and was much decorated for his early work later in life. The star's career was as prolific as it was expansive. While his work had its ups and downs, he continued to put out films through the 1990s, and made his Broadway debut in 1995 in a revival of Damn Yankees. His mid to late life may have been impacted by his various ailments, but it did not slow his creative output.
Lewis was married to Patti Palmer, with whom he had six children. The two separated in 1980. Later, he would go on to marry SanDee Pitnick, and the two adopted a daughter, Danielle. His son Joseph passed in 2009, but he is remembered by his remaining six children.