When legendary performer Jerry Lewis passed away on Sunday, there was an inevitable tidal wave of condolences. Well wishes poured in from all sides of the entertainment spectrum, and an array of respected comedic minds were eager to let the word know just how much of an influence Lewis had been on their careers.
— Sean Hayes (@SeanHayes) August 20, 2017
None of this was unexpected, Lewis’ legacy speaks for itself, and he was unquestionably influential on hordes of American humorists and comedic performers. There was just one small problem: Jerry Lewis was kind of a dick.
It’s a terrible thing to type about a person less than a day after their (albeit timely) demise. But it was true. And it’s a persona that the man himself never shied away from. Many who crossed paths with Jerry Lewis in recent times will remember him as a cantankerous old blowhard who held some very unpopular opinions — as well as a few downright offensive ones.
Jerry Lewis says he’s sees women as mothers, not stand-ups. Also against them voting, driving, smoking & frequenting speakeasies! #senile
— Lisa Lampanelli (@LisaLampanelli) May 29, 2013
Caring what Jerry Lewis thinks about women comics is like caring that grandpa doesn't like all the loud music today
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) May 24, 2013
Through his long-running series of Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons, Lewis raised an estimated $2.5 billion and he picked up plenty of plaudits for himself during the process, including the 2009 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
When he passed away on Sunday at the ripe old age of 91, the White House issued a statement of condolence, which mentioned “his incredible charity work” that “touched the lives of millions.” It called him “one of our greatest entertainers and humanitarians.”
But not everyone agreed:
A majority of disabled people do not consider Jerry Lewis a humanitarian, rather an exploiter.
— Rebecca Cokley (@RebeccaCokley) August 20, 2017
rip, jerry lewis. I'm sure all those kids you took advantage of for your telethon won't miss you
— lizzie (she/her) 🏳️🌈 (@lizsicle) August 20, 2017
This problematic side of the Jerry Lewis coin, was, for some people, difficult to look past. Which is completely understandable. Some people feel incredibly guilty for continuing to support an artist who they perceive as a morally dubious person.
But is a complete boycott necessary?
Is it possible to despise an artist but adore their work? Many professional wrestling fans will tell you it is. That industry has spat out countless contemptuous individuals from all sides of the political spectrum, but the fans always come back for more.
You can acknowledge the flaws of a talented person, but still enjoy their work. Obviously, we all have our limits, and there’s a line in the sand — nobody expects you to acknowledge that Hitler’s paintings were actually quite good — but you’re definitely allowed to enjoy a Jerry Lewis movie once in a while.
Even if he was a dick.