Dean Martin thought Jerry Lewis was joking when he offered him the role of a uniformed police officer in his 1957 movie, The Delicate Delinquent.

“Dean said, ‘We’re partners. I should at least be a detective!’’’ recalls the crooner’s daughter Deana Martin to Closer. “But Jerry said, ‘No, that’s the part.’ It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

After their comedy team, Martin & Lewis, split up, Jerry’s star continued to rise. In 1959, he signed a $10 million, seven-year contract with Paramount — a record at the time.

But although the public loved Jerry for the adorable misfits he played, he hid a darker, often malevolent side that reflected his deep insecurities.

Born to two vaudeville performers, Jerry learned how to make people laugh as a youngster.

“Jerry was an only child largely left by his parents in the care of his grandmother,” Shawn Levy, author of King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis, tells Closer. “His parents were so remote they almost didn’t attend his bar mitzvah.”

He dropped out of high school to be a comedian and met Dean at age 19.

“They were an overnight success and went from making $1,500 a week to millions,” says Deana.

When the act split up after a decade, Jerry’s ego and workaholic tendencies were unleashed. He made 16 films in eight years, earning millions for the studio — and making him immune to criticism.


But as Jerry grew more powerful, he became a bigger bully.

“When fame and money come all at once, even the strongest men will get their heads turned around,” he admitted in 2006’s Dean and Me: A Love Story.

Those near Jerry tread a careful line. During a costume fitting for the 1964 film The Disorderly Orderly, Jerry, then married to Patti Palmer and a father of six, made a move on actress Karen Sharpe.

“He grabbed me. He began to fondle me. He unzipped his pants. Quite frankly, I was dumbstruck,” recalls Karen, 87, who refused his advances.

“I could see that he was furious,” she says. Instead of firing Karen, Jerry forbid the entire cast and crew from speaking to her for all of the weeks-long filming. Women weren’t his only target.

“He bullied employees, journalists, young performers, and anyone else he felt had less power than him because he could,” explains Levy. “Those childhood wounds of loneliness and worthlessness never left him.”

Jerry also did some good in his lifetime. He hosted the annual Labor Day telethon for muscular dystrophy for six decades, raising approximately $2.6 billion.

“No one gets the satisfaction or the joy I get out of seeing kids realize there is hope,” he said. His private life was less successful. Patti left Jerry in 1980 after 35 years of marriage. The couple’s eldest son, Gary, blamed his father for the suicide of his brother Joseph in 2009, calling Jerry “a mean and evil person.” That rift never healed.

When he died, Jerry left his sons and their children out of his will. But despite his flaws, Jerry reached out to his old partner Dean when it mattered most. In 1987, the singer’s son Dean Paul Martin Jr. died in a plane crash.

“Jerry came to the funeral but stayed in the back,” recalls Deana. “He didn’t want to make it about himself. Later, Jerry called my father, and they talked for an hour. He was a true friend.”