Jerry Lewis liked parties. He didn’t like funerals. He loved Labor Day weekend.
The late comic legend, who died at 91 of heart failure Aug. 20 at his home in Las Vegas, was treated to a party on his favorite holiday Monday afternoon at the South Point showroom. Hosted by Tony Orlando, his longtime co-pilot for 34 years on the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, the private celebration of life was attended by more than 400 friends and family.
Owned by Lewis’ close friend Michael Gaughan, South Point was important to the latter stages of Lewis’ career. That’s where he hosted his final MDA Telethon in 2010 and where he performed his final live shows on Sept. 20 and Oct. 1-2 in 2016.
“We lost a great one, and the country can’t afford to lose even one more laugh,” Orlando said. “The man who generated those laughs was Jerry Lewis. … We are going to miss him. Imprint, today, every laugh he ever gave you.”
Orlando nodded toward Lewis’ widow, SanDee “Sam” Lewis, and Lewis’ daughter, Danielle, referring to them as “the two lights of Jerry’s life.”
In remarks to the audience, Danielle Lewis said, “Growing up, I never realized what an incredibly lucky girl I was. We’d be in an airport and someone would come up to him and say, ‘Thank you for all you have done for the MDA! Thank you for all the laughs!’ And I’d say, ‘Dad, did you know them?’ ”
His wife said she will treasure the quiet times.
Jerry at home
“Unlike so many who knew him, my memories were not of his movies, or the MDA Telethons, but of the times when it was just us,” she said. “Making me a small glass of coffee filled with just cream and sugar so I could be just like my mommy, or having a stuffed Barney toy on his piano, always sitting there during his live shows, just so I could have a reminder that he was thinking of me.
“I remember two years ago, getting out of the car in the freezing rain in Washington, D.C., just so he could take a picture with me in front of the Lincoln Memorial.”
As she grew up, Lewis’ only daughter said, “I began to realize my father really was one of the most amazing human beings on the planet.”
Dean Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin, spoke spiritedly of her father’s partnership with Lewis, the 1946-’56 run when the Martin &Lewis team were box-office and stage superstars.
“When I was born in Manhattan, they were headlining Slapsy Maxie’s in Hollywood, and they were the No. 1 comedy team in the world,” Martin said. “Jerry later told me, ‘We found magic in a bottle,’ and they did.”
Adopting the sensibility mastered by those who participated in the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, Deana Martin deadpanned, “The Jerry Lewis I know was caring, loving, rarely hot-tempered (or) selfish, never egocentric, he was never difficult. In fact, he actually had the heart of a child. In a jar. On his desk.”
She continued, “I asked my Uncle Jerry, ‘Why does Daddy leave me alone when he goes with you to Las Vegas? And he said, ‘Because he likes me better than you.’ When my dad and Uncle Jerry broke up, I said, ‘Why is everyone saying Jerry would go off and be a big star and Dean would just fade away?’ And he said, ‘Because people like Jews better than Italians.’ ”
Deana Martin’s appearance was accompanied by video of the famous reunion of her father and Lewis during the 1976 Labor Day Telethon, orchestrated by mutual friend Frank Sinatra. Lewis drew a laugh that day when he asked his long-ago partner, “So, are you working?”
“That was my dear Uncle Jerry, and I loved Jerry Lewis,” Deana Martin said.
Telethon raised more than $2 billion