Originally created 03/15/04

Q&A: Jerry Lewis on his health, Janet Jackson and Martha Stewart



NEW YORK -- Jerry Lewis turns 78 on March 16. He never thought he'd see 76.

Lewis once was in so much pain from the pratfalls he did in his younger days, he was feeling suicidal - until he was implanted with a Medtronic pain pacemaker that eases the agony when he pushes a button on a remote control-like device.

Lewis is also being weaned off the steroids he's been taking for a painful lung condition. The steroids caused him to gain 80 pounds.

Lewis recently sat down in a suite in the Waldorf Astoria for an exclusive radio interview with AP Network News, discussing everything from his health to Janet Jackson to Martha Stewart.

AP: You've lost a lot of weight since we last saw you on your Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon in September.

Lewis: Fifty-eight pounds. And I've got 22 to go.

AP: You've been promoting this pain pacemaker for a couple of years now. Have you heard from anyone who's gotten one?

Lewis: I get so much joy out of helping somebody in pain. The satisfaction is beyond comprehension. I've had a couple of people who I've been responsible for getting into the Tame the Pain program. To hear them thank you, it's like they make you an apostle. They really do. They bless you and bless your family and it's perfectly understandable to me because I'm a victim. I know what they're going through.

AP: When do you know you need one of these pain pacemakers?

Lewis: When you want to kill yourself, unfortunately. You get to a place like I did where the thought process is very, very simple. "I can't take this anymore." or, "You had better succumb to this," or "you're not going to make it another day. Finish it off."

AP: You'll celebrate two years of being pain-free on April 22. And by then, you should be off the steroids completely, so you should be in pretty good shape for your telethon on Labor Day weekend.

Lewis: That's actually my goal to get well to do that. I looked at some material after I got out of the hospital and I couldn't believe (demonstrates how he was out of breath during the telethon). I feel like I imposed on the American people with that illness and that fat and that breathing. But I was there for the right reason.

AP: While you've been recuperating, the entertainment world has been rocked by what Janet Jackson did at the Super Bowl. Are you concerned about what this means for comedy?

Lewis: It's like a country of people that had nothing better to do on a Sunday. They're watching the Super Bowl and look at what Justin Timberlake did. I thought that he was a skin disease. I didn't know that his name was a person. Justin Timberlake pulls her bra off and from what I saw it was no big deal. I've seen a better set on late-night television. This country has nothing better to do. Look at what they're doing to Martha Stewart. No matter what she did, she shouldn't be so punished that she looks at television and they're showing her the size of the cell that she'll be living in and that maybe she can work in the kitchen. Come on. Isn't that a little gross? That's kicking someone when they're down.

AP: I understand that you think "The Nutty Professor" was the highlight of your movie career. Why?

Lewis: Cause it was such a love affair. ... I was so in love with project and so pleased with my work that I don't know how to turn my back on it.

AP: Does it bother you that kids today probably think that Eddie Murphy is "The Nutty Professor" and not you because Murphy remade the movie?

Lewis: What I'm trying to do right now is release "The Nutty Professor" this summer in theaters and I want to charge two dollars for children to come and see the movie. I have a hunch that I really can start something because I happen to believe that the prices to movies are ridiculous.

AP: You have six more remakes of your movies in the works. Do you want one person to star in all of them, so they can become the new Jerry Lewis?

Lewis: The world's not ready for another Jerry Lewis.

On the Net:

http://www.tamethepain.com