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Americans Remember Comedians, Activists Lewis and Gregory

Jerry Lewis pauses during the start of the "Jerry Lewis Stars Across America, MDA Labor Day Telethon," in Los Angeles, Sept. 3, 1995.
Jerry Lewis pauses during the start of the "Jerry Lewis Stars Across America, MDA Labor Day Telethon," in Los Angeles, Sept. 3, 1995.
Americans Remember Comedians, Activists Jerry Lewis and Dick Gregory
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This is What’s Trending Today…

Jerry Lewis, one of the busiest comedians and actors the U.S. has ever seen, died Sunday at the age of 91. The day before, Dick Gregory, a comedian and political activist, died at 84.

Gregory was one of the first African-American comedians to find success with white audiences in the 1960s. He was known for making jokes and commenting on the differences between black Americans and white Americans early in the civil rights movement.

Lewis rose to fame in the 1940s and 1950s while working with comedy partner Dean Martin. He stayed busy working in movies, television and comedy for another 60 years. He was busy promoting a movie as recently as a year ago.

Dick Gregory, left, marches for equal rights for women.
Dick Gregory, left, marches for equal rights for women.

Lewis is known for his movies, including “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor.” He also performed on stage, including a role as the devil in “Damn Yankees.”

While Lewis was known for his comedy in the United States, he was loved as an actor in France. The French government gave Lewis a pair of important awards in the 1980s.

Gregory left his comedy career to fight for social causes, including Middle East peace, animal rights and equal rights for women. He also worked in the 1980s to promote a way of natural eating he called the “Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet.”

Gregory even received over 200,000 votes for president in 1968 as the candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party.

Off stage, Lewis worked to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic disease that causes people to lose their muscle mass. It can eventually cause death as it weakens muscles in the heart and those that are responsible for breathing.

He raised $1.5 billion over about 50 years.

The kind of comedy practiced by Lewis, relying on physical movement for humor, is called “slapstick.” Jim Carrey, a slapstick comedian like Lewis, expressed his appreciation over Twitter.

“That fool was no dummy,” he wrote, calling Lewis an “undeniable genius.” Carrey said he could not have had his success without Lewis coming first.

Comedian Lewis Black wrote about Gregory and Lewis dying on the same weekend.

“I guess after this week,” he wrote on Twitter, “even God was desperate for a laugh.”

And that’s What’s Trending Today.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press. Hai Do was the editor.

What do you remember about comedians Jerry Lewis and Dick Gregory? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

comedian – n. a person who performs in front of an audience and makes people laugh by telling jokes or funny stories or by acting in a way that is funny : an actor who plays roles that make people laugh

activist – n. a person who uses or supports strong actions (such as public protests) to help make changes in politics or society

audience – n. a group of people who gather together to listen to something (such as a concert) or watch something (such as a movie or play): the people who attend a performance

promote– v. to make people aware of (something, such as a new product) through advertising : to make (something) more popular, well-known, etc.

cause– n. something (such as an organization, belief, idea, or goal) that a group or people support or fight for

fool– n. a person who behaves in a silly way

dummy– n. a stupid person; a fool

genius– n. a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable

desperate– adj. having a strong need or desire for something or to do something