Jerry Lewis, king of low-brow comedy and charity fundraiser, dies at 91

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Jerry Lewis. (Reuters)

LOS ANGELES | Jerry Lewis, the high prince of low-brow comedy on stage and in movies as well as a fund-raising powerhouse with his annual Labor Day telethon, died on Sunday at the age of 91, his family said.

Lewis died of natural causes at his home in Las Vegas with his family by his side on Sunday morning, his family said in statement.

He had been hospitalized for about five weeks beginning in early June for a urinary tract infection, keeping him from traveling to Toronto to appear in a film, his spokeswoman, Candi Cazau, told Reuters by telephone.

Lewis rose to fame as goofy foil to suave partner Dean Martin and was a comic icon in France.

He once summed up his career by saying “I’ve had great success being a total idiot” and said the key was maintaining a certain child-like quality.

“I look at the world through a child’s eyes because I’m 9,” he told Reuters in a November 2002 interview. “I stayed that way. I made a career out of it. It’s a wonderful place to be.”

Jim Carrey, an actor whose style owed a heavy debt to Jerry Lewis, paid tribute to the comedian soon after news of his death.

“That fool was no dummy,” Carrey wrote. “Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was!”

The sentiment was shared by late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, who tweeted: “Jerry Lewis was a genius comedian, actor, director, inventor, humanitarian.”

Lewis was 87 when his last movie, “Max Rose,” came out in 2013, playing a jazz pianist who questions his marriage after learning his wife of 65 years may have been unfaithful.

The son of vaudeville entertainers, Lewis became a star in the early 1950s as Martin’s comic sidekick in nightclubs, on television and in 16 movies. At their height, they set off the kind of fan hysteria that once surrounded Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.