Dear Jerry Lewis: Why the child in me got sad when I heard you died

Dear Jerry Lewis: Why the child in me got sad when I heard you died

Dear Mr. Lewis,

You didn’t know me.

But I knew you.

Well, maybe I didn’t actually know you, but I knew you.

Ok, well, maybe I should clarify.

Here’s the thing.

When I was a child, you made me laugh.

No, actually that’s not big enough.

You made me laugh!

If I knew one of your Martin and Lewis movies was coming on, I’d do anything to watch it. Fortunately, they were often on Saturday afternoons so it worked out well. First Saturday morning cartoons, then your movies in the afternoon. And, yes, if you said I watched a lot of TV as a kid, you’d be right.

The same with the movies you did after Dean. They were different, but they were still great.

And they still made me laugh.

In fact, if there’s one part of one movie I’ll never forget, it’s you as a bellboy in “The Patsy.” In one scene, you drop a bucket of ice in front of a group of businesspeople. Watching you trying to pick up the ice cubes while nervously trying to explain yourself, well, all I can say is, Monet could paint. Shakespeare could write. But no one. No one could do what you did with those ice cubes.

Then every fall, I’d watch your Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. Well, I’d try to watch as much as I could. After all, I was only a kid and it was a long show. But I loved it.

It was so exciting to see the celebrities, both national and local, though I didn’t really know who most of them were. Who’s this Frank Sinatra guy? Sammy Davis Jr.? Of course, then there was that time Dean Martin came out to surprise you. Not for the last time did I see tears in your eyes.

And there was more. Firefighters across the country holding their “Fill the Boot” drives. The MDA Carnival Kits that we kids could order to hold our own carnival in our own backyard to raise funds. And, of course, the tote board going up, right after you’d yell something like, “Turn it!” The orchestra would play, and all of a sudden the numbers would change. The amount would rise by another million dollars. Then you’d yell “Yeah!” as the music soared.

Later, as I grew up, I’d see you more through the eyes of an adult. It was sometimes hard reconciling the man I loved with some of the things you said. But, then, over time, I came to understand that, like everyone, you had your own trials and tribulations. Fears and failings.

And, really, in the end, for me, what mattered most was that you simply made me laugh.

A deep, belly laugh.

With your moves, and your “L-a-d-y!!!” and your stammering, stilted Yoda-like delivery. With your slips and falls and facial expressions. With the surprising way you could also dance. All of it came together to make me happy.

Of course, most of all, I just remember feeling not so lonely when you were on the TV.

And, for that, I thank you.

Rest well, Jerry.

I’m guessing you’re already telling God a joke.

I’ll listen for the laughter.

Take care,



Contact me at or @jameswarda. Join my Facebook page. And listen to my podcast. (Wow, I’m so demanding, aren’t I?)

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