Jerry Lewis has been accused of being egomaniacal, misogynistic, cantankerous, a terrible father and a miserable human being. Not to mention that he didn’t change his hairstyle for over 50 years.
There’s no denying that Jerry did and said a lot of regrettable things in his life. When he got older he said more stupid shit than Donald Trump at a COVID-19 press conference.
When asked about Lucille Ball he was quoted as saying, “A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.”
About Joan Rivers he once said, “She set the Jews back 1000 years.” To Joan Rivers he once wrote, “I will get somebody, from Chicago, to beat your God damn head off.”
He called cricket “a fag game” on Australian television no less, where it’s their number one participation sport. And he tried to be funny on his telethon by calling his cameraman’s son, “an illiterate fag.”
He’s been accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes of the disabled and of exploiting children with disabilities in order to solicit donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He once held up one of the children called “Jerry’s Kids” and proclaimed, “God goofed, and it’s up to us to correct His mistakes.”
After working for free with the MDA for 55 years, hosting over 40 telethons and raising over 2 billion dollars in charitable contributions, he was unceremoniously dumped for reasons that have never been revealed. One can only imagine what he must have said or done that caused the MDA to end their long and profitable relationship so abruptly. After his seemingly forced resignation, and only a few weeks before the show’s broadcast, they cancelled his final appearance on the telethon without explanation. He never even got to say good-bye. (Interesting side note: On October 24, 2020 Kevin Hart will pick up the reigns as the host of The MDA Kevin Hart Kids Telethon.)
For yet more unknown reasons, Jerry publicly disinherited his six sons from his first marriage so that they would not receive any part of his estimated fifty million dollar estate. Of course, it was his money and it’s none of our business how he chose to bequeath it. But it does make you wonder what happened there, too.
About a year before he died, Jerry gave this famously contentious interview that made him look like an angry asshole.
Okay, so toward the end of his life he became a crotchety and opinionated old man who spoke without a filter. So what? If I live to be 91, I’d like to think that I’d earn the right to be a crotchety and opinionated old man who gets to say whatever he wants, too.
A lot of people never appreciated Jerry Lewis, even when he was young. Most women I know, never thought he was funny. But most women I know don’t think The Three Stooges were funny, don’t like sports and aren’t into threesomes either.
Jerry Lewis has also been called, a genius, a world renown humanitarian, a great philanthropist, a filmmaking pioneer and The King Of Comedy. To me, and to generations of his fans, he was a Comedy God. (And not just in France.)
When I was growing up, his movies were the funniest things I’d ever seen. Some of them are classics that still make me laugh today. Every time a new Jerry Lewis movie would come out in theaters, I begged my parents to take me to see it. Any time a Jerry Lewis movie was on primetime television, I pleaded with them to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it. Every year when that telethon aired, they knew I was going to stay up all night because, to me, that was like watching a 21 HOUR JERRY LEWIS MOVIE!
For the better part of a decade the comedy team of Martin & Lewis ruled the box-office, broke records where ever they performed and were a bonified cultural phenomenon. On his own, Jerry was even more successful as an actor, writer, director and producer who became Hollywood’s highest paid talent. His original techniques of filmmaking changed the way movies were made. Among other innovations, he created the video assist, which allowed directors to review their work immediately on the set for the first time, and it’s still in use today. Quentin Tarantino has called him, “one of the great actor/directors in the history of cinema.”
He received lifetime achievement honors from the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Venice Film Festival, a Governor’s Award from the Television Academy, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy, and France’s highest honor of all, their Legion of Honour. Although, he never did receive the Father Of The Year Award.
Perhaps his greatest achievement of all was the influence he had on generations of comedians that came after him. You can see him clearly reflected in the performances of younger comedic actors like Jim Carrey, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Pee-Wee Herman, and the list goes on. After Jerry passed away, Jim Carrey tweeted, “I am because he was!” Jerry Seinfeld said, “If you don’t get Jerry Lewis, you don’t understand comedy.” But perhaps it was Gilbert Gottfried who put it best when he wrote, “The French were right about him all along.”
It’s a shame that Generation X will probably remember him as a grumpy old man, Millennials will never appreciate his genius, and Generation Y won’t even know who he was.
So how will you remember Jerry Lewis? As a comedy legend and a great humanitarian? Or as an egomaniac and an asshole? Or perhaps as a complicated human being who was capable of being all of these things? Personally, I choose not to judge him at his worst. I choose to enjoy him at his best.
Check out these other entertainment articles and videos on Manopause:
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His Master’s Voice by Roz Warren
Celebrity Deaths Part 1 by Richard Basis
VIDEO: When Jerry Met Jerry