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"He was schlepping me through life," Lewis said in 1992, "and I was his luggage." That's very sweet. But to think that Dean carried Jerry is the biggest joke of their career. Lewis, a genius at playing an idiot, was the brains of the act, Martin the gonads. So it surprised some that when the crooner went solo in 1956, he not only could get movie roles but could fill them handsomely. They were, to be sure, tailored to his talent--alcoholics and playboys--and in them he moved easily: as the cowardly G.I. in The Young Lions or the sodden gambler in Some Came Running. He spends most of 1959's Rio Bravo, his best film, staring mournfully at a whiskey bottle he'd like to suck dry. Defeat glazes his eyes; it's the rare movie portrait of an alcoholic that skirts both sensation and sentiment.
After that, Dino coasted. He became a Southerner on record, with countrified hits like Everybody Loves Somebody and Houston, and a Westerner onscreen--he loved to sit on a horse and ride to Nogales, or nowhere. Perhaps nowhere was his chosen destination. To Nick Tosches, his biographer, Martin was a nihilist hero. Instead of seeing mankind surrounded by a void, Tosches argued, Dino found the void within himself, and called it home.
Maybe something could touch him; the 1987 death of his son Dean Paul in an Air National Guard plane crash cued more drinking in Martin, more severe solitude. With three marriages far behind him, he spent his final years dining alone nightly at an Italian eatery in Beverly Hills. At home this past Christmas Eve, he was attended only by a nurse. She gave him a last drink--water!--and he died. No grieving, please: the cowboy crooner finally rode off into the oblivion he always seemed to crave. And, as Dino might have observed, it beats working.