Jerry Lewis Had Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes was one of the many ailments that Jerry Lewis dealt with towards the end of his life, and it’s mentioned in multiple reports of the cause-of-death report for the legendary comedian. The Clark County Nevada Coroner reported that Lewis died on August 20th, 2017 of ischemic cardiomyopathy, according to a New York Daily News report. The actor was 91 years old.

No online sources appear to discuss Lewis’ diabetes in detail, although he has been very open about some of his other health struggles. In recent years, he gained notoriety for being one the toughest interviewees, and often gave one-word or deliberately opaque answers to questions. However, multiple profiles of Lewis in the years before his death also mention his Type 1 diabetes, including a 2016 New York Times interview, so we can safely assume that reporters rushing to write about the comedian’s passing didn’t mistake the two forms of diabetes.

Lewis appeared to have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes very late in life. There are a cluster of stories that appear in 2012 that mention his diabetes after he was taken to a hospital to be treated for hypoglycemia. A Daily Mail report at the time said he was diagnosed with diabetes (no type given) 17 years after a heart attack in 1982. That would mean he was diagnosed at or near the age of 71.

If what causes Type 1 diabetes in children is often a mystery, even less is known about the causes of late-onset Type 1 diabetes, especially in the older population. Often, Type 1 diabetes is first misdiagnosed in the adult population as Type 2 diabetes, and the medical community is still struggling to come up with a good distinction between what is considered “traditional” Type 1 diabetes and what constitutes Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in adults. In some cases, the root cause of Type 1 diabetes in older adults can be traced to prolonged use of certain drugs or steroids; several reports of Lewis’ health troubles mention that he used many painkillers and steroids to combat pain for a few decades.

Lewis famously served as the host of a long-running telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (a condition that he did not have), and he had been open about his battles with addiction and his choice to have a Medtronic device implanted to control his pain. In profiles of Lewis, however, Type 1 diabetes is only mentioned as part of a list of ailments.

Lewis appeared in more than forty films, and was considered the top comedic star in the fifties and early sixties, especially when he appeared alongside crooner Dean Martin in 17 films from 1949 to 1956. He was featured in two films which were released in 2016: The Trust, a comedic thriller where he plays Nicolas Cage’s father, and Max Rose, a movie in which he starred.

Image: Denis Makarenko /

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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