Jerry Lewis, legendary comedian and actor, dead at 91

Last Updated Aug 20, 2017 6:52 PM EDT

Jerry Lewis, the legendary actor, comedian and director, has died, his publicist and his agent confirmed to CBS News. He was 91.

Lewis, who teamed up with Dean Martin in the 1950s, and later starred in "The Nutty Professor" and "The Bellboy," died of natural causes at his Las Vegas home on Sunday, his publicist Candi Cazau said in a statement.

Lewis spent his youth performing in clubs where he perfected his slapstick comedy act. On a lucky day in 1946, he met a low-key singer named Dean Martin.

"I fell in love with him the day we met," Lewis said on "CBS Sunday Morning" last year. "He was constantly making [me] better. Without Dean, I would've probably worked in a brothel for an hour or two and they would find someone else."

The duo starred in 16 film and TV specials together, including 1950's "At War With the Army," 1952's "The Stooge" and the 1955 musical "Artists and Models." They eventually parted ways in 1956.

"We needed to escape one another," Lewis told CBS News correspondent Tracy Smith.

But Lewis continued to find success, going on to make more than 30 movies, as well as writing and directing many.

"From the first day, I realized I got so much to learn. They couldn't get me on the set to do a scene because I was in the miniature department or the wardrobe or the camera department. I got my education from film people," Lewis said.

Lewis was a spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, where he helped raise funding for neuromuscular disease research. He hosted an annual Labor Day telethon from 1966 to 2010, raising nearly $2.7 billion and earning himself a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

"Though we will miss him beyond measure, we suspect that somewhere in heaven, he's already urging the angels to give 'just one dollar more for my kids," MDA Chairman of the Board R. Rodney Howell said in a statement Sunday.

The money led to longer life spans for those patients, but it didn't buy a cure. At times, Lewis could only watch as the disease claimed the lives of children.

"The days and hours I spent in hospital hallways waiting for the answer of this child -- was he going to live or die? And I took it very personal," Lewis told CBS News in 2016. "'How could he die? Look at the work I've done. And what did we do with all that money? Why don't we use it to help him?'"

"I could write a book on children's reactions to meeting their clown," he continued. "One child says to the coordinator, 'If I didn't get muscular dystrophy I'd a never met him!' And then these children look at you like you're some kind of god. I'm not a god; I just love people. And I love people that are well. I don't like to see someone sick."

Lewis appeared in Martin Scorsese's 1982 film "The King of Comedy," which starred Robert De Niro.

"Jerry was a pioneer in comedy and film. And he was a friend. I was fortunate to have seen him a few times over the past couple of years. Even at 91, he didn't miss a beat," De Niro said in a statement to The Associated Press.

In 1995, Lewis portrayed the devil in the Broadway musical "Damn Yankees." At the time, he was believed to be the highest paid Broadway actor in history, reportedly earning $40,000 a week.

Celebrities and comedians paid tribute to Lewis on social media after news of his death broke Sunday.

"That fool was no dummy. Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius an unfathomable blessing, comedy's absolute! I am because he was!" Jim Carrey said on Twitter.

"It was incredible knowing & laughing with the Amazing Jerry Lewis! He'll keep'em laffin in the ever after!" Samuel L. Jackson tweeted.