Unlikely bond built on respect
Comedy legend Jerry Lewis invites long-time Aussie friend and councillor to his retirement
WHEN American king of comedy Jerry Lewis held his farewell “retirement” concert in New York in September, the 90-year-old’s wife Samantha rang Blacktown councillor Tony Bleasdale to invite him to the event.
Cr Bleasdale struck up a friendship with the funnyman, who has been cracking up the stage and sharing his humour in movies for more than 70 years, when he toured Australia in 2008.
The Liverpool-born councillor, of Shalvey, admitted he was a fan as a youngster of the popular Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies.
But never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that one day the ageing American would be a good friend and asking the Aussie grandfather to help him on to the stage.
“Jerry gets really nervous before he goes on stage … he says ‘Tony, walk me out’; I never ever imagined that he’d want me to help him,’’ Cr Bleasdale said.
Cr Bleasdale said the friendship was forged over a muscular dystrophy fundraising event at Docklands, in Melbourne. The two men were seated alongside each other and, inexplicably, they just clicked.
Since then, they talk over the phone — though not as frequently as they used to — and Cr Bleasdale has visited Lewis at his Las Vegas home.
The relationship is founded on respect, so much so that Cr Bleasdale nominated Lewis for an honorary Order of the Medal of Australia in 2014 for his fundraising efforts for children with muscular dystrophy in Australia.
“A lot of people don’t know that Jerry has raised millions of dollars for muscular dystrophy,” Cr Bleasdale said.
Unlike the most recent nomination of an non-Australian for an OAM — Tony Abbot’s hugely unpopular nomination of the Duke of Edinburgh — Lewis’s nomination was embraced.
Cr Bleasdale and wife Nina were special guests at the ceremony in Las Vegas, where Lewis was presented with his OAM by the then Australia’s US Ambassador Kim Beazley.
Jerry Lewis with Tony Bleasdale (below) in 2011; (above) with Dean Martin and (middle) with Jim Carrey at his 90th birthday celebrations.