The French love him, I love him and those in his own country love to hate him. Many people consider him a relic of the past. Out of touch, with a big mouth and by today’s standards somewhat politically incorrect. So it is easy to see why he polarised so many people. After all he was a comedian who had “great success being a total idiot.” That said, news of Jerry Lewis peaceful passing overnight of natural causes at 91 at his home in Las Vegas, personally really affected me today. I wont say it was a shock because I had heard Jerry had been quietly ill for some time. I guess I am moved so much because he featured heavily on my television screen on a Saturday afternoon when I was a kid. He was always there for me, and every now and then, I still throw on a random Jerry movie.
Of interest, the Library of Congress in 2015, announced that it had acquired Jerry’s personal achives. In a statement that followed, Jerry said, “Knowing that the Library of Congress was interested in acquiring my life’s work was one of the biggest thrills of my life.” On a personal note, one of my own personal thrills was seeing Jerry live at The Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, in Melbourne, in 2008. I will cherish that evening forever, even if he was a grumpy old fart that night. But what can you expect, Jerry was 82 years of age in 2008, trying to make us all believe he was in his 20’s again!
Last year on his 90th birthday I paid tribute to him the best way I knew how, by naming my top 5 Jerry Lewis films of all time. Today that doesn’t seem like enough. There is, of course, so much more I would love to say about this comedic genius, but we will leave that for another day. But I will leave you with a little Jerry nostalgia, something that is not often widely talked about.
In 1995, a small British-American comedy-drama was released to little fanfare called Funny Bones starring Oliver Platt and Jerry Lewis. The Guardian newspaper described it as a film “about being funny and about being yourself, about being funny as an expression, a definition of self.” I struggled to find a theatre that was playing it in Melbourne, but I eventually found an independent theatre that was brave enough to release it. I will not attempt to review the film here, but I will say that it was wonderfully nostalgic.
In one of its most memorable scenes, Jerry Lewis delivered a monologue that still to this day remains with me, that sums up almost everything about (the comedy of) Jerry Lewis from his glory years. His character George Fawkes says, “We were funny people. We didn’t have to tell funny stories. We were funny. We had funny bones!” I like to believe that Jerry was talking a little bit about himself (even though he was in character) because that is how I see Mr. Lewis. Not a buffoon, but a gifted, sincerely funny individual, who loved to entertain. I am glad that his maniacal persona will forever live on through his films.
Photo credit: The movie still image of Jerry Lewis as Jericho the clown in Three Ring Circus (1954) is courtesy of Paramount Pictures. I make use of the images under the rational of fair use to highlight an example of the body of work Jerry Lewis excelled in as an actor and comedian. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip embedded here.