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RIP Jerry Lewis: What made the comedy legend so polarizing?




Comedian Jerry Lewis participates in the SiriusXM Town Hall at The Friars Club on June 4, 2014 in New York City.
Comedian Jerry Lewis participates in the SiriusXM Town Hall at The Friars Club on June 4, 2014 in New York City.
Andrew Toth/Getty Images for SiriusXM

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Comedy legend Jerry Lewis, 91, died in his Las Vegas home on Sunday from natural causes, according to his publicist.

As reported by the Associated Press, Lewis suffered from lung disease pulmonary fibrosis, back problems and had a pain killer addiction. He was best known for his outlandish slapstick comedy and annual muscular dystrophy telethons. For those not familiar with his loud, physical comedic style, he is referenced as being an influence on Jim Carrey.

Lewis began his career at age five, performing in his parents’ vaudeville act. He went on as part of a duo with Dean Martin, which gave Lewis international fame and put his mark on radio, theater, television and film.

His most notable films include “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor.” The French famously loved Lewis’ comedy, and he was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1983 by the French government. Throughout his career, it was also reported that Lewis was so into his work that he would sometimes forget to eat. Even at 90, the comedian said he still woke up at 4:30 or 5am to work on his writing.

But as acclaimed as Lewis was, there were those who felt his comedy was more obnoxious than funny. Larry looks back with a former film critic, to talk about Lewis' life, work and the polarizing feelings behind his comedy.

Guest:

Shawn Levy, former film critic for The Oregonian (1997 to 2012) and author of “King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis” (St. Martins Press, 1997); his latest book is “Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016);  he tweets @shawnlevy