Suzan Minoret, a homeless Northeast woman who claims she’s Jerry Lewis’ daughter, says she’s seeking family, not fortune.
By William Kenny
Jerry Lewis remains silent.
The bombastic stand-up comedian and comic actor may be legendary for his flamboyant personas and sharp, often-caustic wit, but when it comes to Suzan Minoret, a homeless Northeast woman who makes a compelling case that she’s his illegitimate daughter, Lewis seems to be pleading the fifth.
There’s been nary a word from the Lewis camp since the Northeast Times printed Minoret’s distressing saga on Jan. 18. Lewis has not responded to follow-up requests for comment.
Minoret hasn’t heard a peep from him, either, despite her declarations that reuniting with her biological father is her top priority and her assurances that she’s not merely trying to cash in on his riches. For her, it’s all about the family, not the fortune.
At 65, Minoret is also trying to sell her autobiography and kickstart a career as a motivational speaker and advocate for the homeless while figuring out a way to get herself and her best friend, David Susskin, off the streets. And while she insists that their quality of life has improved in recent weeks, in reality their routine has changed little since Minoret’s story made headlines.
“I feel we’re getting a little more respect instead of people thinking we’re just out on the street,” Minoret said during an interview in the department store cafe where she and Susskin spend much of their days.
“People come here and ask for autographs,” Susskin said. “They take pictures of her at least once or twice a day.”
The article chronicled Minoret’s privileged childhood as the daughter of a fashion model mother and Park Avenue restaurateur stepfather. Celebrities were never far from the family. Even Lewis, who like Suzan’s mother was married at the time, maintained a frequent presence in the young girl’s life, although he never acknowledged publicly that he had a daughter.
Their contact became rare after Minoret married and moved to France in the 1970s. Their meetings became non-existent by the mid-1980s after Minoret divorced and re-settled in Florida to be near her widowed and ailing mother. About a decade ago, Minoret and Susskin moved to Philadelphia to work with an agent on her book and a publicity campaign. But that collaboration crumbled, leaving them homeless.
Minoret’s story has triggered a variety of reactions from people who see them in the stores or on the street each day.
“Regular people who’ve known us a very long time kind of knew our situation, but they didn’t know how bad it was,” Susskin said. “Other people who we’ve known have stepped away because they’re jealous of the publicity.”
“I think it was easier for some to be compassionate because they thought we were nobodies,” Minoret said.
Regarding Lewis: “Some people can’t comprehend how he could be so good to ‘Jerry’s kids’ and so bad to her,” Susskin said.
On the good side, some store managers have become more welcoming to them since learning of Minoret’s connection to Lewis.
Despite the occasional gift from a passing stranger, the pair shun panhandling. They survive mostly on disability checks. Both have permanent injuries caused by automobile accidents.
On Feb. 11, they created a GoFundMe page called “Jerry Lewis Daughter Homeless.” Unfortunately for them, it hasn’t generated a single donation, unless you count the $5 that Susskin pledged on Feb. 26. Their goal is to raise $8,000.
Similarly, they’ve had little success keeping Suzan’s name in the news. In late January, a local TV station broadcast a segment about her, but the national media hasn’t picked up the story.
“We’ve been having trouble reaching other media,” Minoret said. “We wrote to the New York Times and didn’t get an answer. I told them to look up all of their old articles about my family.”
But they keep trying. Typically, they start their days at a local doughnut shop, where they have coffee and a light breakfast. After a while, they go to their favorite department store cafe, where they get to work, stopping periodically for lunch and naps.
“It’s like our office where we write the book, make calls, send emails and plan our strategy,” Susskin said.
They employ cell phones because they don’t have a computer.
“We’ve sent the emails and made the calls and now we’re waiting for replies. That’s all we do,” Susskin said.
In the evening, they generally return to the doughnut shop for more coffee until it closes. Then they walk to a nearby diner until the early morning. They usually have to spend at least a few hours per night outside.
“We have no place to go and all the time in the world to get there,” Susskin said.
For a while, they also had a self-storage unit where they kept their possessions and could shelter in extreme conditions. But they fell behind on their payments and got locked out. One of their immediate goals is to raise enough money to pay off the storage unit and retrieve their things. They also want to have some money available for health care. A local family doctor used to see them both, but he retired about a year ago.
“I’m very concerned because we’re getting older,” Susskin said.
“We think of that all the time,” Minoret said.
Susskin thinks that radio might hold their big break. He’s been trying to get the attention of actress Brooke Shields, who hosts a new show on SiriusXM satellite radio discussing topics like parenting, relationships, fashion and the arts. As someone born out of wedlock and as a celebrity’s child, Suzan’s life might provide great fodder for conversation on a multitude of topics.
Despite their many setbacks, they continue to look ahead.
“We’re very positive. If we weren’t positive, we would’ve given up a long time ago,” Minoret said. ••