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Jerry Lewis’ widow, daughter recall his passing in ‘Autopsy’

Updated July 30, 2021 - 10:42 am

Jerry Lewis was an international entertainment legend. He was a champion of philanthropy.

He was also one tough dude.

“He kept coming back, from everything,” Lewis’ widow, Sandra “Sam” Lewis, says. “He didn’t get normal colds. When he caught something, it was major.”

Sam Lewis recalls, “He was always fighting pain. That’s why he loved being onstage. He said, ‘When you’re onstage, you forget the pain.’”

Lewis was 91 when he died at Aug. 20, 2017, of cardiac disease. His myriad health issues, and much of his private life, is being revisited at 5 p.m. Sunday on“Autopsy: The Last Hours Of … Jerry Lewis.”

The Reelz series focuses on the lives and deaths of famous figures. The show has also investigated the deaths of ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez, film legends Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe, members of the Rat Pack and disgraced sex offender/financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Lewis’ death was not disputed. But he accumulated a litany of physical ailments over the course of his 91 years. He suffered chronic back pain from his many pratfalls (including a particularly ruinous incident at the Copa Room at the Sands in 1965). He developed lung disease from many years of smoking. He survived multiple heart attacks and prostate cancer.

Lewis also became addicted to painkillers (Percodan is specified in the Reelz show). His appearance ballooned because of his use of the steroid Prednisone, which led to Type 2 diabetes. Those conditions are being teased in “Autopsy.”

Sam Lewis, and Lewis’ daughter Danielle, have yet to watch the final edit of the Reelz show. But they took part because they wanted to help tell the story of Jerry’s final years. They sought to put his health in proper context, and also offset inaccurate reporting about his health, and even his family relationships.

“I researched it and saw they had done shows about many celebrities,” Sam Lewis says. “It wasn’t exploitative. The title ‘Autopsy’ doesn’t do it justice. It speaks of their lives, not just death.”

Sam Lewis, very much Jerry’s caregiver late in his life, says she spoke at length about Lewis’ youth, his career, and spoke of the couple’s adoption of Danielle, born in 1992. The Lewis’ daughter talked of her position as the heiress to Lewis’ estate, after Sam Lewis, as Jerry Lewis left his six sons from his previous marriage out of his will.

“It’s a blanket statement, but as an adult I have wanted to earn my keep and be responsible for my own life and make something of myself,” said Dani Lewis, who does not have contact with any of Lewis’ sons aside from Chris. “I have never wanted to live off my dad or my mom. I used this as an opportunity to share the truth, not what people read and speculate.”

The Reelz project airs just as Lewis’ landmark book, “The Total FilmMaker” is being reissued, on its 50th anniversary. The book is available on the bookselling website mwp.com and Amazon.com. Film reviewer Leonard Maltin wrote the forward.

Sam Lewis says her husband considered the book his greatest literary achievement. Her public re-emergence while speaking about Jerry has not been easy.

“This is the first time I have done interviews since his passing,” Lewis says. “I don’t know that I’ll do it again. But I wanted to make sure the record was set straight.”

Holmes hits the Note

Column fave Clint Holmes’ “Regeneration” series is back at 2 p.m. Saturday at Notoriety Live at Neonopolis. Holmes is joined by his music director, keyboard great Tom Schuman of Spyro Gyra. The special guest is a talented singer/songwriter ChloA Watson. It is Holmes’ fourth matinee appearance at the venue. Holmes is due to return to Myron’s at The Smith Center in September, but will continue occasional spots at Notoriety, too.

Cool Hang Alert(s)

Cork & Thorn at 70 W. Imperial Ave. in the Arts District welcomed 50 Cent (who did not perform) Sunday night. 50 had just headlined Drai’s at The Cromwell. Cork & Thorn proprietor Randi Garrett carries 50’s Branson cognac and Roi Champagne lines and met his distribution reps at this month’s Bar & Nightclub Convention.

Garrett has started a “Ladies Night” for female DJs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays. DJ Kitty was among the first headliners this week. At 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Vegas vocalist Alli Starr hosts a night of ‘80s favorites. Sundays, it’s ‘90s hip-hop brunch is from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The whole ‘90s vibe lasts until 10 p.m.

It’s a cool lineup befitting an alleyway hideaway. Find the entrance and you’ll get it.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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