Nutty Professsor comedian Jerry Lewis dies aged 91

Jerry Lewis's long career spanned the history of showbusiness
Jerry Lewis's long career spanned the history of showbusiness

Jerry Lewis, the rubber-faced comedian who starred in many hit movies, has died.

Lewis died on Sunday morning of natural causes, aged 91, in Las Vegas, with his family by his side, publicist Candi Cazau said.

Lewis first became a star in a duo with Dean Martin, entertaining audiences in nightclubs, on television and in the movies.

After their split in 1956, he starred in and directed a number of hit films such as The Nutty Professor.

Later generations knew him primarily as the conductor of weekend telethons to raise funds for victims of muscular dystrophy.

Lewis retired from making movies in 1995, but returned as star of the 2016 drama Max Rose.

His career spanned the history of show business in the 20th century, beginning in his parents’ vaudeville act at the age of five.

He was just 20 when his pairing with Martin made them international stars.

He went on to make such favourites as The Bellboy, was featured in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and appeared as himself in Billy Crystal’s Mr Saturday Night.

In the 1990s, he scored a stage comeback as the devil in the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees.

In his 80s, he was still travelling the world, working on a stage version of The Nutty Professor.

He was so active he would sometimes forget the basics, like eating, his associates would recall. In 2012, Lewis missed an awards ceremony thrown by his beloved Friars Club because his blood sugar dropped from lack of food and he had to spend the night in the hospital.

In his 90s, he was still performing stand-up shows.

A major influence on Jim Carrey and other slapstick performers, Lewis also was known as the ringmaster of the Labour Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in the US, joking and reminiscing and introducing guests, sharing stories about ailing children and concluding with his personal anthem, the ballad You’ll Never Walk Alone.

From the 1960s onwards, the telethons raised more than a billion dollars.