So long to a man with boundless energy and an amazing love for his fans.
Article and Photos by Martin Hafer
One of the most famous entertainers of our times died this weekend. But while many are saddened by the passing of Jerry Lewis, I can’t help but think that he lived life to the fullest and died doing what he loved…entertaining people. So, when he hit an age where most comedians and filmmakers stop or at least slow down significantly, Lewis kept on touring…almost to the very end.
I saw Lewis in person twice and both times he kept the crowd enthralled. The first time was at the Turner Classic Movies film festival a few years ago. I was shocked how youthful he appeared and how sharp his intellect during the question and answer session before a showing of The Nutty Professor. After all, he was in his upper 80s at the time…yet walked out onto the stage to greet his very enthusiastic fans like he was perhaps 20 or 30 years younger. Additionally, while most of these sessions at the festival lasted ten minutes or so, this one went on for half an hour and Jerry seemed more than willing to go on longer! It was only later that I talked to one of his handlers and learned that Lewis was becoming more and more wheelchair dependent and this ‘sprint’ onto the stage was a superb job of acting. Why walk out there instead of simply staying in his chair? It was all for the fans…they came to expect a youthful Lewis and he provided it.
The second time I saw Lewis was on the last Turner Classic Movies cruise last November. A few years had passed and Lewis was now in his 90s. Yet, interestingly enough, he was not on the ship when it left Florida. Why? Because he was busy and had other engagements….he was out doing lectures and only came to the ship later at one of the ports of call! Once again, he was amazingly sharp and full of energy. Perhaps a bit less energy…perhaps a bit more hard of hearing than before….but still his sharp wit and energy remained. I think he was there because he needed his fans and drew his energy from them. Rarely have I ever seen any entertainer connect with the audience like he did during his sessions on the ship. And, the response from the crowd was heartwarming…as they sure connected with him.
I would also add to this that in addition to traveling almost non-stop entertaining well into his 90s, Lewis also recently made a movie…and a darned good one, Max Rose, and I reviewed it a few months ago. He also, up until only a few years ago, also hosted the grueling MDA telethons each year…raising billions for the cause. And then there are the rest of his films and television and stage work….which spanned almost his entire life. He was, first and foremost, an entertainer…a man with no equal. And, with having accomplished so much, I cannot feel all that sad at his passing. After all, he gave us his all and lived life to the fullest.