Jerry Lewis and the Homeless Daughter He Cruelly Ignored
The legendary late comedian had his audiences in stitches. He was also, if several of his children are to be believed, a cold-hearted, distant father—if he acknowledged you at all.
Pity those planning the memorial service for legendary comedian Jerry Lewis reportedly scheduled for Labor Day weekend, at least when it comes to figuring out which of Lewis’ sometimes feuding—or possibly missing—children will show up.
One thing seems certain: Lewis’ daughter Danielle, 25, whom he and his second wife adopted when Lewis was 66, will be front and center since she was as much Lewis’ Chosen One as Ivanka is President Trump’s favorite child.
Lewis’ 64-year-old alleged illegitimate daughter with former fashion model Lynn Dixon, who calls herself Suzan Lewis (née Minoret) and is a dead ringer for her father, will probably be sleeping somewhere on the streets of Philadelphia. She’s been homeless for several decades, ultimately turning down help from a close friend of Jerry Lewis’ a few years ago.
And don’t get anyone started on Ronnie Lewis, the son Jerry and his first wife adopted in 1949. When The Daily Beast mentioned Lewis’ six sons to his Las Vegas spokeswoman Candi Cazau, she insisted he had only five sons. Cazau has worked for Lewis since 1998 and swore she never heard of a son named Ronnie, although Ronnie can be seen in many family photos online as well as in a YouTube video singing with his father on TV back in the 1950s.
Lewis’ longtime friend and former manager Rick Saphire cleared the Ronnie mystery up, sort of, by saying that Ronnie had “disowned the entire family” awhile back and it wasn’t clear where he was at present.
Suzan Minoret, in contrast, wants everyone to know where she is. She’s been peddling a memoir called Jerry’s Kid for years and her Twitter avatar is a split screen photo of her and Jerry Lewis. She repeatedly tweets out a link to her Gofundme page that describes her as “disabled permanently and homeless.” Some of those who know her say her disability is not obvious when meeting her. Phone calls and emails to her and two people who call themselves her reps were not returned.
Saphire said Minoret is a complicated person, ultimately losing interest after Saphire and his wife brought her and her male friend to Philadelphia in 2008, got them nearly free housing, helped her write her memoir and accompanied her to New York to appear on Howard Stern’s show.
“I liked her and said to her, she was around 54 at the time, Suzan I don’t want to see you turn into a 60-year-old Jewish bag lady,” said Saphire. “And now look what’s happened. Her life seemed to be bent on Jerry somehow magically acknowledging her but I told her, Jerry is never going to say, here’s my beautiful daughter living in the gutter. I told her, write the book, become a motivational speaker for the disabled or homeless, he’ll be more likely to reach out to you. She doesn’t have to be back on the streets. When we all went to New York she almost wore me out with her energy.”
Minoret knew Jerry Lewis while growing up but said her mother only told her she was her biological father when she was 26. But she had far from an underprivileged life. According to a piece this year in Philadelphia Weekly, Milton Berle introduced her mother to Lewis at the Copacabana in Manhattan and they had a three-year affair.
Her mother later married the infamous restaurant and nightclub owner Hy Uchitel who was alleged to have mob ties. Suzan often defended him, saying he was a great father figure and she was close to him. She grew up on Park Avenue, went to a private school where she learned to speak French fluently and her friends were the daughters of Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was presented at the 1969 International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf Astoria.
She also told Philadelphia Weekly that her mother arranged to have Lewis vacation near them at times during her childhood and that he was always kind and affectionate toward her.
“He was very affectionate. He gave me gifts, dolls. And I loved dolls,” Suzan told the paper. “He wanted a daughter but he could never tell anyone he already had one.”
Minoret ran off to France to marry Francois Minoret. They had two sons, one of whom was with her when she said she spent a day with Jerry Lewis at a Paris hotel room.
Her life apparently took a dark turn after she left her husband and sons in France, fearing they wanted to institutionalize her, and moved to Florida. She was in a car accident in 1996 that left her, she said, with “partial brain damage,” although she was not hospitalized overnight. She eventually ended up on the streets.
In 2009 Minoret—with the help of Inside Edition—took a DNA test with Lewis’ eldest son Gary, now, 70, that showed there was an 88.7 percent chance they shared the same father.
Lewis never confirmed or denied that Suzan is his biological daughter, despite Suzan’s repeated pleas.
In contrast, Lewis gushed endlessly about “Dani,” named after Lewis’ stern and often disapproving vaudevillian father Daniel Levitch.
“She’s the air in my lungs,” Lewis told CNN’s Larry King in 1996 when he was starring in Damn Yankees. “She’s the reason I’m here with you today. She brings me the energy to sit with you. She brings me the energy to go on at 8 o’clock and try to be as good as I possibly can so she hears about it.”
Danielle, he said, traveled with him everywhere and went to school wherever he was working.
“Do you carry your arms and legs, Larry?” he asked. “She’s brilliant… she has courage, tenacity, she’s secure, she’s well-loved, she’ll be terrific in whatever she does. Watching my six sons embrace my daughter is an incredible experience. You recognize that another human being has the capacity to change you, take you a notch up.”
Danielle now works as a personal assistant and stays out of the spotlight.
Lewis’ odd daughter obsession began early. He married his first wife Patti Palmer when he was only 18 and they had six sons (one adopted.)
In the fall of 1963, when his wife was pregnant with their sixth child, Lewis was determined to have a daughter. (He didn’t acknowledge Suzan’s existence back then in part because it would have been instant career suicide for a Hollywood megastar to admit he had cheated on his very Catholic wife and had a child out of wedlock.)
To nudge fate, Lewis held a “Think Pink” party backstage after one of his solo TV shows. Pink cupcakes were served and the guests were reportedly urged to sing the Broadway hit “Think Pink!” in order to will the fetus in Mrs. Lewis’ stomach to be a girl, according to various reports. A video clip of the party has since disappeared from YouTube.
Thinking Pink did not work and Joseph Lewis was born later that year. He struggled for many years with substance abuse and his father reportedly disowned him after Joseph told The National Enquirer in 1989 that Jerry viciously beat his kids. Joseph died of a drug overdose in 2009 at age 45, penniless after a stint on the streets himself.
“Joe did always tell me that he always felt he was a big disappointment to his father because he wasn’t a girl,” his ex-wife Kim told Inside Edition.
After Joseph’s death, Gary Lewis also blamed his father for Joseph’s death, telling the Globe, “Jerry Lewis is a mean and evil person. He was never loving and caring toward me or my brothers.”
Gary Lewis today, according to Lewis’ former manager and longtime friend, Rick Saphire, was back in touch with his father and is “devastated” over his death. After taking pity on Suzan and spending time with her back in 2009, Gary is no longer really in touch with her. Nor is Saphire, though he wishes her well.
Saphire helped Suzan make a video of herself and he mailed it to Jerry. “I told him ahead of time but I never heard back from him about it,” Saphire said. “When Jerry doesn’t want to think or talk about something, he just shuts down. He was a guy from a different era. Young people today would never understand.”