NEW YORK (AP) — Jerry Lewis, 90 years and nearly one month old, is wearing a dark jacket, yellow shirt and a big red tie. He is seated in a director’s chair in the middle of the first floor bar of the Friars Club. The room is packed and noisy with camera equipment and assistants and family members and guests.
Lewis has agreed to meet with The Associated Press and discuss whatever one might try to bring up with the man who gave us “The Nutty Professor.” He can still contort his face and cackle like the old days — HAH-HAH-HAH-HEHHHHHAAAAAAYYYYEEEEE — but the years have caught up to his hearing, and Lewis has never been much for questions and answers.
So think of the interview not as a private exchange, but like shouting out orders at a popular deli.
How does it feel turn 90?
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“I feel like 90. I don’t think you get away with feeling any other way. It’s a great number.”
What do you think of the Friars Club?
“It’s OK. I have nowhere else to go. It’s the best place in the world to come to.”
Lewis turned 90 in March and celebrated his birthday near his home in Las Vegas, but a milestone isn’t a milestone until it’s been reached at the Friars, the venerable show business gathering place where he holds the high-ranking title of Abbot. He came to New York recently to help promote the opening of “Max Rose,” a Daniel Noah-directed film in which Lewis plays a jazz pianist reconsidering his past. But he also turned up at the Friars — to a chorus of cheers and filthy jokes — for a public tribute, a private dinner and a few words with the press.
How did you come to be in “Max Rose”
“They sent me a check.”
What do you think of the movie?
“It’s a good script, beautifully written, directed great, a wonderful, wonderful movie.”
At the Friars, the rooms have names. The grandiose banquet space on the second floor is called the Milton Berle Room. The shining second floor bar, where you can order a Bourbon Legend or Rye Sense of Humor, has been christened the Lucille Ball Room. And this cozy spot where Lewis speaks is named for Billy Crystal
Except when Lewis is in town. Then it becomes the Jerry Lewis Room. Every room at the Friars becomes the Jerry Lewis Room.
“There’s something about him,” says Gilbert Gottfried, among those waiting in the lobby to greet him. “The times I’ve met him, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m 3 years old and he’s Jerry Lewis.'”
Inside the Crystal/Lewis bar, Robert Klein approaches.
“My most favorite person in the world, Robert Klein is here!” Lewis cries out to his fellow comedian. “Now you know why I come to the Friars.”
Enter Jim Carrey.
“He’s 90!” Carrey reminds the crowd about his hero. “He can still disappoint us!”
Dick Cavett is here.
“Jerry, I never thanked you for giving me a job.”
You could say the interview has been postponed, but it never really started — or ended. You could say the inmates have captured the asylum, except the inmates have been in charge all along. Lewis and Klein are singing “Medical marijuana!” Lewis is chanting Hebrew prayers. Carrey is jabbering gibberish. Names are dropped that hit the floor ages ago —Harry Ritz, Frank Fay.
The madness keeps Lewis young, and so does having a goal: Live longer than George Burns, who made it to 100.
“Beat Burns” is his slogan.
“I was with Burns for his 99th birthday and I told him, ‘I’m going to beat you,'” he says of the late comedian, who died in 1996.
“I still have a shot at it.”
It’s a deal: Beat Burns.