Ever the nonchalant celebrity, Dean Martin first gained fame with his partnership with all-screws-loose comedian Jerry Lewis in the forties and fifties.
The son of Italian immigrants, Martin spoke his parent’s native language until age five; he dropped out of school by age sixteen and earned his keep as an amateur boxer. Through underworld connections, he earned his first singing gigs around the Midwest, and by the early 1940s, he had become a regular at some of New York City’s nightclubs.
Martin hooked up with Jerry Lewis by accident when they both took the same stage at Atlantic City’s 500 Club in 1946. Their subsequent string of sixteen film collaborations, nightclub acts, and TV appearances raked in millions. A cornerstone member of the “Rat Pack,” Martin is remembered for his smooth baritone voice (his records tended to go gold), his boozy insouciance, and his devil-may-care approach to life.
His TV variety program, The Dean Martin Show (1965-1974), hinged on this same easy informality, but serious outings in such films as The Young Lions (1957), Minnelli’s Some Came Running (1958), and Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo (1959) proved him an accomplished dramatic actor, as well. Ever the life of the party, Martin stepped back from his high-profile life after his third marriage ended in divorce in 1976. Years of heavy drinking and smoking took their toll on Christmas morning of 1995, when Martin succumbed to acute respiratory failure brought on by emphysema.
When Jerry Lewis and I were big, we used to go to parties, and everybody thought I was big-headed and stuck up, and I wasn’t. It was because I didn’t know how to speak good English, so I used to keep my mouth shut. – Dean Martin