In Hollywood Jerry Lewis was the undisputed “King of Comedy” at the height of his career. But while he brought smiles to millions of faces on the big screen, his personal life was more complex than you might think. And it all came to a head following Lewis’ passing in 2017, as he addressed his children via a shocking passage in his will.
During the last few years of Lewis’ life, he continued to pop up in certain projects, defying his advancing age. Indeed, his final film credit came in 2016, more than six decades on from his big screen debut. Then, around 12 months later, the actor suffered a significant decline in his health.
For you see, Lewis was dealing with both peripheral vascular disease and cardiac disease over that period. In the end, the famous funnyman passed away from heart failure in August 2017. He was 91 years old at the time, with his wife and adopted daughter staying by his side at their Nevada home.
However, in the weeks after Lewis’ death, previous issues from his personal life began to spill out. It all started when his will entered the public domain in September 2017. And as we mentioned earlier, the legal document contained a startling message for the comedy legend’s six other adult children.
Born in March 1926, Lewis grew up in New Jersey under the name Joseph Levitch. During that period, his mom and dad both worked in the entertainment sector, showcasing their abilities in different ways. Indeed, Rae Levitch was a talent behind the piano, while her husband Danny was a singer and dancer.
When the couple performed together in hotels and for vaudeville acts, they insisted on utilizing a different surname, opting for Lewis. Due to their work, though, they usually had to drop their son off to another guardian. That constant movement soon left an indelible mark on the future Hollywood star, as we’re about to discover.
Yes, Lewis began to develop feelings of self-doubt, which pushed him on to search for attention from other people. Given the career that he went on to have, that’s a particularly interesting point. But before he started to leave audiences in stitches, the youngster had another ambition that he wanted to realize.
Quite simply, Lewis was desperate for his folks to bring him along while they traveled for work. As he patiently waited for an answer, he started to put together shows of his own at school, highlighting his talents. And in the end, the New Jersey native finally got what he wanted.
For you see, when Lewis’ dad was offered a lengthy gig at a New Jersey hotel towards the end of 1938, he decided to bring his son. From there, the latter devised a new routine during his time in the building, teaming up with the proprietor’s daughter. Together, they mouthed the lyrics from well-known songs.
After that, Lewis made his intentions clear over the next few years. As a teenager, he abandoned his high school studies and tried to break into the entertainment business, which led to a significant moment. Following in his parents’ footsteps, the aspiring performer took on the stage name of Jerry Lewis.
Subsequently, Lewis tried his hand in vaudeville and burlesque shows before he was introduced to someone in the mid-1940s. The person in question was Dean Martin, the soon-to-be famous singer. Despite their contrasting on-stage personalities, the pair went on to forge a highly successful partnership that ran through the rest of the decade.
Together, Lewis and Martin’s unique blend of music and comedy was winning audiences over in various nightclubs around the country. However, while the unlikely duo performed their routine at the Copacabana club in 1948, a Hollywood producer named Hal Wallis took a special interest in them. At that stage, everything changed.
You see, Wallis recruited both Lewis and Martin to Paramount Pictures, which led to their first big screen roles. The pair made their debut in the 1949 comedy My Friend Irma, before appearing in several other films over the next seven years. Hollywood or Bust marked their last collaboration together in 1956.
Off the back of the split, Lewis continued to establish himself in Hollywood in the latter half of the 1950s. The comedic actor featured in a number of movies during that period, ahead of a big moment. Yes, in a bid to showcase his versatility, he decided to direct and star in his own feature.
And the movie was titled The Bellboy, with Lewis taking on the leading role of Stanley. Following its release in 1960, his career then went down an interesting path, as the funnyman divided up his time between directing and acting. To add to that, he enjoyed another significant hit back in 1963.
That year, The Nutty Professor was released in theaters across America. Much like The Bellboy, Lewis directed and starred in the comedy classic, proving his talents as a filmmaker once again. By the end of its cinema run in the states, the movie brought in just over $7.6 million.
At that stage, Lewis showed no signs of slowing down, as his work continued in Hollywood. He also hosted a telethon from 1966 onwards that shed light on muscular dystrophy, so he was pretty busy. However, after The Day the Clown Cried was released in 1972, he didn’t appear in another movie for eight years.
That’s right, and Lewis only made his return in 1980’s Hardly Working, before he appeared in his next movie two years later. Unlike some of his other roles, though, this particular feature allowed him to showcase his acting chops in a different way. The film in question was Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, which starred Robert De Niro.
Although Lewis played a comedian in that movie, his character was essentially the “straight man” next to De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin. The former subsequently earned plenty of praise for his role, scoring a BAFTA nomination in the process. But while his career was enjoying a resurgence, his personal life was in an interesting place too.
With that in mind, let’s cast our minds back to Lewis’ younger years in the 1940s. Before he joined up with Martin, he was introduced to a woman named Patti Palmer in Detroit, Michigan. Within a matter of months, the pair tied the knot in 1944, ahead of a life-changing moment the following summer.
Indeed, Lewis and Palmer celebrated the birth of their first child in July 1945, naming him Gary. From there, the duo had their second son, Ronald, around four years later. For a time that family unit stayed as it was, as the actor found his feet on the big screen.
Yet in 1956, Lewis and Palmer added another new face to their clan, who they named Scott. After that, the parents had three more kids over the next few years, with Christopher, Anthony and Joseph joining the family. The latter was born in 1965, and he proved to be the final arrival.
By 1980 though, Lewis’ lengthy relationship with Palmer had broken down, leading to a pivotal point in their lives. That year, the duo decided to get a divorce after more than three decades together. But despite the split, the Hollywood star soon found love again, as we’re about to discover.
Yes, Lewis formed a romantic bond with a woman named SanDee Pitnick, who plied her trade as a dancer in Las Vegas, Nevada. The pair eventually got hitched in 1983, and continued to live alone as husband and wife for close to ten years. Yet in 1992, they decided to welcome a new addition to their household.
That’s right, Pitnick and Lewis adopted a little girl named Danielle, rounding off the family. On that note, let’s redirect our focus back to the actor’s will, which came into effect after his death in 2017. As we suggested earlier, the legal document contained a shocking message to his six biological children.
Of course, the will itself was finalized some four years prior to Lewis’ passing. But no one could’ve predicted what it said. He wrote, “I have intentionally excluded Gary Lewis, Ronald Lewis, Anthony Joseph Lewis, Christopher Joseph Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis, and Joseph Christopher Lewis and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention that they shall receive no benefits hereunder.”
With those words, Lewis’ $50 million estate was left in the hands of Pitnick and Danielle. So you’re probably wondering why the funnyman chose to cut out his sons. Truth be told, there doesn’t appear to be a definitive reason behind it, yet there are some potential explanations.
According to Anthony Lewis, he and his brothers had a troubled relationship with their father. When he died, the comedian’s second-youngest son came forward to speak with Inside Edition. And he went on to paint a rather unnerving picture over the course of the interview.
Anthony claimed, “It was not an Ozzie and Harriet life. When [my dad would] show up and park right in front of the big front door, my mom would get on the intercom and she’d say, ‘Your father’s home!’ And [me and my brothers] scattered. We could never predict his behavior on a given day.”
At that point, Lewis’ son told Inside Edition that his dad twice beat him with a belt at home. But in his mind, that wasn’t the worst part of it, as he touched upon another issue during their talk. Anthony continued, “The emotional abuse [I suffered], it was every day.”
Meanwhile, following Lewis and Palmer’s split in 1980, Anthony stepped up to sue his dad in support of his mom. Then, after the film star passed away, only two of his sons were asked to come to the funeral, proving how tense things were. However, Christopher and Scott’s presence didn’t change the outcome of the will.
Outside of that, Joseph Lewis backed his brother’s claims during an interview with the National Enquirer in 1989. In a frank exchange, he told the tabloid newspaper, “Living with [my dad] was pure hell. I’ve tried drugs. I’ve tried therapy and the truth still hurts, my father doesn’t love me.”
Sadly, Joseph died back in 2009 following a drug overdose, leaving behind three children of his own. Prior to his death, he hadn’t talked to his father for 20 years, and in fact his own sons had never even met their grandad. So much for happy families.
Furthermore, Lewis turned down the chance to cover Joseph’s funeral costs, too. And if that wasn’t enough, rumors emerged that the comedy legend didn’t want the story to get out into the public. To pull that off, he reportedly told his other kids to keep the information to themselves.
Then, some 12 months on from Joseph’s death, Gary Lewis sat down to talk with the National Enquirer. Much like his youngest sibling, he had a few harsh words to share about his dad, but that’s not all. Indeed, he also thought that the film star was responsible for what ultimately happened.
Gary said, “Jerry Lewis is a mean and evil person. He was never loving and caring toward me or my brothers. I don’t know if Joe’s death is drug related, but I believe it could have been prevented if he and my father had been on better terms. I believe he partly died of a broken heart. [My father] doesn’t really care.”
Regardless of all the negativity, though, Lewis finally opened up on this subject while talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2014. During their emotional chat, the father-of-seven appeared to be saddened by everything that transpired. In fact, he suggested that Joseph’s death really did hurt him in the following years.
Lewis claimed, “To this day I don’t understand it because it’s unfair. Not unfair to me, but unfair to [Joseph]. That he went that way made the unfairness stupidity. But he was my son and he’s gone, and there’s not a lot I can do about that. I beat myself a thousand times.”
However, while the relationship between Lewis and his sons was clearly strained prior to his passing in 2017, Anthony raised another point. Instead of focusing on him or his brothers, he looked at the impact this could have on their own kids. In addition to that, he also admitted that he harbors a significant regret.
Indeed, Anthony told Inside Edition, “I knew I wasn’t going to get anything [in the will]. But the real sticking point, the real dagger in my heart is for the grandchildren [who were cut out]. I’m really sorry that I didn’t have any one-on-one time with [my dad] to express that I love him.”