Legendary comedic actor Jerry Lewis achieved a lot in his career before passing away in 2017 at the age of 91. However, the star’s incredible success on the screen and stage sadly wasn’t mirrored in his personal life. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at Jerry Lewis’ sad and lonely life.
Jerry Lewis was born on March 16, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a vaudeville performer and his mother was a pianist, and young Jerry often accompanied them during their act. However, the two also often left to tour, leaving Jerry alone with other relatives. Because of this, Jerry had a very lonely childhood. Infamously, his parents were said to have missed the young boy’s bar mitzvah, which left a devastating impact on Jerry’s psyche.
Jerry’s lack of strong parental influence also caused him to engage in deviant behaviors starting at a young age. The comedic actor claimed to have lost his virginity to a burlesque dancer when he was only 12 years old. The young boy enjoyed the performance element of burlesque clubs. By the age of 15, Jerry had dropped out of high school and was performing comedy at burlesque clubs around the area.
Jerry met Dean Martin in 1946. The two instantly hit it off, and began performing as a comedic duo. Dean played the straight man, while Jerry goofed off. Together, the two began to make a major impression on audiences around New York City. Eventually, they would make their way onto film. Over a period of seven years, Jerry and Dean made 16 films together. Their first film together was 1949’s My Friend Irma, and their last was 1956’s Hollywood or Bust.
Over the time period that they were performing as a comedic duo, Jerry and Dean rocketed to stardom. However, this stardom starting going to their heads, as each one believed that they were the reason that “Martin and Lewis” were successful. Their separation was not amicable, and the two didn’t speak to each other for two decades afterwards.
As legend has it, Dean told Jerry that the only reason he worked with him was for the money. This devastated Jerry, who idolized his friend and performance partner. After the separation, both Jerry and Dean maintained successful careers apart from one another. Jerry went on to perform in and direct many classic films all on his own, including The Bellboy and The Nutty Professor.
Jerry was a perfectionist, and was always looking to take his comedic performances to the next level. Sometimes this drive for perfection was beneficial, other times it had a negative impact on his personal life. The comedic actor was said to have been unable to wear a pair of socks more than once, and had to keep all of his money arranged consecutively by serial number and folded up in his pocket.
Jerry’s drive to impress the audience is what caused the 1965 accident that led him to become addicted to painkillers. During a performance on the stage, Jerry attempted to do a double cartwheel off of a piano. Shockingly, the comedian landed on his back in front of the audience, and ended up being severely injured. The injury changed Jerry’s life forever, and his back would never fully recover.
The doctor gave Jerry a prescription to the painkiller Percodan in order to help alleviate the pain from his injury, and this kicked off a 13-year battle with addiction for the injured actor. During the period where Jerry was addicted to Percodan, his latent mental issues were exacerbated.
Jerry was married to his first wife at the time that he was addicted to Percodan, and also had several kids. In 1973, while under the influence of Percodan, Jerry claimed to have placed a gun into his mouth before deciding not to pull the trigger after hearing his kids playing down the hall. Jerry’s addiction to Percodan was also said to have caused another brush with death, when Jerry was found to have been suffering from a stomach ulcer that nearly killed him.
Numerous mental health issues plagued Jerry over the course of his lifetime, but the comedic actor was always afraid to get to the bottom of them. One of the reasons that Jerry always declined to exorcise his personal demons was that he felt that it might prevent him from being as funny. Even if his neuroses and obsessions were a detriment to his personal life, they were useful during his performances. As Jerry put it, all of the pain that he experienced in his life was worth it when it melted away on the stage.
Sadly, Jerry’s demons weren’t always funny. This truth could be seen in the failures of his relationships with his first wife and children, and also in the notorious 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried. Directed by, written by, and starring Jerry himself, the film told the story of a circus clown tasked with leading children to their deaths in a concentration camp. Understandably, the film’s premise drew a great deal of controversy, and the film was never released. Before his death, Jerry gave the only existing copy of the film to the US Library of Congress. Apparently, there are plans to eventually make the film public sometime after 2024.
One person that has seen The Day the Clown Cried is Harry Shearer, a comedic actor that idolized Jerry Lewis while he was growing up. According to Harry, the film deserves it’s notorious reputation. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Jerry Lewis was only 18 years old at the time that he met his first wife. Jerry’s first wife was Patti Palmer, a woman that worked around the same clubs as him in New York City. The two were married within two months of meeting each other. Despite the fact that Jerry and Patti had numerous children and were married for many decades, it has since become apparent that Jerry was far from a good husband to his first wife. According to the late comedian himself, he would take the opportunity to sleep with any other women that would have him early on in his marriage to Patti.
One of the many women that Jerry was said to have had an affair with during his marriage to Patti was none other than Marilyn Monroe herself. The two had a romantic fling that apparently didn’t end too well, as it caused Jerry to turn down a role he was offered in the hit 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot. Jerry turned down the role because he didn’t want to have to work with Marilyn, and recommended fellow comedic actor Jack Lemmon to the producers instead. The film was a major success for Jack, garnering the actor an Academy Award nomination. He was said to have sent Jerry a box of chocolates every year following the film’s release.
Jerry and Patti had six sons, and their names were Anthony, Scotty, Chris, Gary, Ronnie, and Joseph. In the years following Jerry and Patti’s divorce, Patti and all of her six sons came forward with allegations that Jerry had been an incredibly abusive husband and father figure. Joseph died at the age of 45 as a result of a drug overdose, and Jerry refused to pay for his son’s funeral. Gary blamed Joseph’s death on his relationship with his father, and the abuse that he had suffered at his hands. Jerry himself claimed later on in life that he felt a great deal of guilt after Joseph’s death, but that the pain went away whenever he was on stage.
There was always an element of escapism to Jerry’s comedy, as the actor used his comedy as therapy to vent his own neuroses. Jerry once claimed that he had made a career of doing things that children would get in trouble for doing in class. Perhaps this is what kept Jerry from retiring in his later years, even as his health began failing.
Jerry stayed married to Patti until 1980. After their divorce, Jerry married a stripper named SanDee Pitnick in 1983. Though the two never had any biological children, they adopted a daughter named Danielle. During his later years, Jerry became known for his charitable work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Jerry hosted numerous telethons for the organization that proved incredibly profitable. However, the Muscular Dystrophy Association distanced itself from Jerry for undisclosed reasons in 2010.
In addition to his numerous mental health problems, Jerry also suffered from many physical health problems over the course of his life. Many of these stemmed from his 1965 double backflip injury, while others were separate issues. Jerry suffered from type 1 diabetes, and also suffered from multiple heart attacks during his lifetime. His first heart attack occurred during the filming of 1960’s Cinderfella.
In the 1990s, Jerry began going through prednisone treatment to help with his pulmonary fibrosis. The treatment caused Jerry to gain a good deal of weight, and drastically altered his appearance. Jerry died on August 20, 2017. At the time of his death, the comedic actor was 91 years old.
The official cause of Jerry’s death was said to have been a mix of end-stage cardiac disease and peripheral artery disease. Jerry left his estate to his second wife and adopted daughter, and made special care to leave out his first wife, the sons they’d had together, and any of their relatives.
Jerry Lewis would likely prefer to be remembered for his comedic work instead of for his personal failings. Comment down below to share what your favorite Jerry Lewis movie is, or if you’re anxious for the eventual public unveiling of his controversial lost film, The Day the Clown Cried. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!