Legendary actor Jerry Lewis gets brutally honest with USA TODAY’s Bryan Alexander in a 2016 interview about Hollywood.
Comedian, actor and humanitarian Jerry Lewis didn’t hold back when he had an opinion. He’s said a lot over the years and here are some of his most memorable utterances in interviews with USA TODAY.
On making peace with journalists when it was announced he was joining Damn Yankees on Broadway: “I put all of my anger, uncertainties and resentments on the back burner. They’ve played too long a role in my life. I approached this with what wound up being the healthiest medication I could take. I decided I would open my arms to these people and hope they let me in.” (1995)
On surviving being stalked: “I’m really not thick-skinned — my wife will tell you that I take sunsets personally — but I know that I’ve got the belly for whatever comes down the pike. I think it’s tenacity. You’ve been there before and you just have to recall, ‘How did I handle that one?’ ” (1995)
On his health: “My spinal column looks like a map to Wilkes-Barre (Pa.). I was hooked on Percodan from 1965 to 1978. I went for five years and didn’t know where I was. They tell me I did four films, five telethons and a 50-city concert tour. That’s what Percodan is. But I was lucky. I went to my doctor, and he saw I was in deep trouble. I looked 75. He put me in the hospital, and that was the last time I put anything in my body. At the end of a show, my wife lets me have a Miller Lite, and it’s nectar of the gods. But that’s the extent of it.” (1995)
On his health, Part 2: “From 1936 on, I have taken more falls than any other 20 comedians put together. From the time I was 21, I’ve taken them on everything from clay courts to cement to wood floors, coming off pianos, going out a two-story window, landing on Dean (Martin), falling into the rough. You do that and you’re gonna have problems. I had pain during the last eight films; I’ve had pain in 37 straight telethons. I’ve never had a day without pain since March 20, 1965.” (2002)
On his career longevity: “A lot of people resent that I’ve been in someone’s life for 50 years. Why shouldn’t people have an affection for me and what I’ve done? Didn’t I have to be genuine for them to buy into what I did? There are children who grow up today who will not have that when they’re 55 years old. With whom will they have it? Name an example for me.” (2002)
On his well-known temper: “I will do whatever is necessary to make better the stupidity on my part — and therefore go after those who are acting stupid themselves. It’s not popular. You don’t make friends when you do that. And I couldn’t care less.” (2002)
On if he’d ever do Shakespeare: “I hate period pieces. I won’t see Shakespeare in Love. I’m like that. I don’t want to see The Vikings. I’m not interested in the f—— Crusades, The Crucible. The Spanish Inquisition doesn’t do anything for me. I want Thelma & Louise again.” (2002)
Insisting he didn’t miss doing Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, which he hosted from 1966 to 2010: “I’m 90, what does that tell you? You start slowing down. I haven’t slowed down at all, but that’s what you are supposed to do.” (2016)
On performing in front of a live audience: “I love it, you walk on the stage and you are reborn. The laughter is just wonderful.” (2016)
Contributing: Bryan Alexander, Mike Clark and David Patrick Stearns
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