Monday, August 21, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017, and Dick Gregory, 1932-2017, R.I.P.

Today's post is obviously not the post I meant when I said in my last post that "my next post is even stranger!" That post is going to be postponed indefinitely.

I'm going to attempt to keep this dual tribute article brief, because I've been doing a lot of different internet chores today, and I'm not done yet! I've been here at the library since 9:30 a.m., and as I began writing the text portion of this post, two p.m. passed by me!

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1. Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017, R.I.P.

Jerry Lewis, who died Sunday at the age of ninety-one, evoked a number of different reactions from everyone who knew of him. He was considered a genius, abrasive, hilarious, insulting, humanitarian, and more adjectives than I can include here and be true to my promise to keep this post "brief." I was a huge fan of his when I was a kid, and I've found it rather discouraging over the years as I learned unfortunate personal things about his words and actions  -- I once had a co-worker who said Lewis insulted both himself and his elderly mother -- but I've always been able to separate his personal quirks from his various performances.

Lewis (fifth from left), Ed Sullivan (ninth from left), and Lewis' then-partner
Dean Martin (tenth from left) on the premiere episode of Ed Sullivan's CBS-TV
variety show, Toast of the Town (later renamed The Ed Sullivan Show), in 1948.

Another shot of the team of Martin and Lewis, before their 1956 break-up.

Dean and Jerry were enormously popular, and even got their own comic book series.

After their 1956 split, DC Comics went with the comic half of the former
team and retitled the book with issue #41 to shift its focus to Jerry alone.

One of my favorite issues of The Adventures of Jerry Lewis,
which parodied the story of The Wizard of Oz.

Jerry's first solo film outing, 1957's The Delicate Delinquent. This remains one of my favorites
of his.  Lewis is flanked by Martha Hyer and Darren McGavin in this lobby card photo.

I absolutely loved 1958's The Geisha Boy when I
first saw it on television sometime in the early 1960s.

Probably Lewis' most-loved and critically acclaimed film, The Nutty Professor (1963) re-worked the
Jekyll and Hyde story to hilarious effect. It also inspired the 1996 remake starring Eddie Murphy.

Ed Sullivan, Lewis, and Jerry's son Gary. Gary was a mid-1960s pop sensation,
with Top 40 hits like "This Diamond Ring," "Count Me In," and "Green Grass."

Lewis, of course, hosted the annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association
from 1966-2010. He helped to raise many millions of dollars over the years, although
facing controversy over portraying people with disabilities as subjects of pity.

A scene from the never-released The Day the Clown Cried, a World War II-era film.

Frank Sinatra, a mutual friend of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, arranged a live, on-the-air reconciliation
between the two former partners on the 1976 MDA Labor Day telethon. The two hadn't spoken in twenty
years. I can proudly say that I was watching this historic moment as it happened.

Lewis delivered a critically-acclaimed turn as a dramatic actor in Martin Scorsese's 1982
masterpiece, The King of Comedy. He is pictured here with the film's star, Robert De Niro.

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2. Dick Gregory, 1932-2017, R.I.P.

Comedian and activist Dick Gregory has died at the age of eighty-four. I don't have a lot to say about him. I saw him on television a few times as I was growing up, and I read his autobiography, nigger [sic], sometime well after its 1964 publication, probably in the early 1970s. At a time when most African-American comedians (such as Red Foxx, Moms Mabley, and Slappy White) played to mostly black audiences, comedians like Dick Gregory and Godfrey Cambridge appealed to white audiences as well and more or less paved the way for later acts such as Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, and Richard Pryor. Starting in the early 1960s, Gregory became more and more involved in political activism. He died of heart failure on August 19th.

An early shot of Mr. Gregory performing stand-up comedy.

With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dick Gregory's autobiography, nigger. I love the inscription to his mother at the bottom of the cover.

With sports legend Muhammad Ali, known for a bit of "political activism" himself.

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Thanks for your time.


  1. I thought you might post another tribute, when I heard about Jerry Lewis. The news mainly pointed out his dedication to raising money for MD. It seems strange to see a comic book about him.

    I really don't know much about Dick Gregory so that was informative.

    May they both RIP.

    1. As I mentioned in my post, Jerry Lewis struck a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Depending on which part of his life or persona you focused on, he could be practically a saint, or an egotistical butthole. But I try to remember the millions of people he entertained, and those for whom he raised millions.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes... but I must admit I've been a bit heartened by the fact that most of my tributes lately have been devoted to those who made it into their eighties and nineties, rather than young men and women.

  3. Jerry Lewis is someone I've both enjoyed and disliked over the years, depending on the context. It's a shame when a person's entertainment abilities are overshadowed by their personal lives not living up to the image, but I suppose that's reality.

    And now I want to read Dick Gregory's book, solely because I'm laughing at the note to his mother. I always enjoyed him.

    1. There are certain entertainers who seem like they'd be easy to socialize with in their personal lives, and some who seem like they're better off not being approached at all. I don't know if I would have dared to walk up to Jerry Lewis if I'd ever seen him in person.

  4. It is a shame that Jerry Lewis passed away just when I heard he was restarting his acting chops. I know he got into trouble when he said Lindsey Logan needed a slap or at least a good spanking....I couldn't disagree with him and I do t care if it was politically incorrect. He comes from a time when spanking was not considered abuse...and it should t be! I enjoyed him with Dean Martin and I liked him in the Disorderly Orderly and another where Martians are involved...haven't seen it since I was a kid. I do think he was an ass and could be tough to work with but he was funny. I don't really know who Fick Gregory is and to be honest, I thought he played the robot on Get Smart until I saw his picture and realized I got him mixed up with Dick Gautier. Sorry about that

    1. I wrote a tribute to Dick Gautier when we lost him, back in January of this year.

    2. i do remember and glad you did

  5. Don't think I've heard of Dick Gregory. That's quite the title for a book though.

    Knew Jerry Lewis would be next here when I saw he had passed. Seen a few of his movies. Can't say I really liked The King of Comedy movie.

    That is a long arse time at the library. They hire you on yet? lol

    1. You didn't care for The King of Comedy? I did. I loved seeing De Niro playing such a nerdy character.

  6. I was never much of a fan of Jerry Lewis because I didn't really care for his brand of comedy. The only movie I remember seeing was Cinderfella. However I totally respect what he did for muscular dystrophy.

    As for Dick Gregory, I'd heard of him, but don't recall ever seeing him on TV. But then we didn't have TV for a long time...

    1. Jerry's style of comedy was already becoming passe as the sixties morphed into the seventies, but he was a huge hit for over twenty years.

  7. I was also watching when Frank reunited Dean and Jerry. I think it was the most memorable telethon moment. I remember Dick Gregory as a comedian and an activist.


    1. It was impressive enough when Sinatra showed up, of course, but then when Dean Martin appeared, it was quite a surprise to me. I briefly thought, "Well, of course, he's a friend of Frank's," and then it hit me that Dean had been Jerry's partner years earlier, and the two of them were no longer friends! Quite a moment to be sitting there watching something that happened with absolutely no warning.


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