For more than 50 years, Jerry Lewis tirelessly served the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and the neuromuscular diseases community. As its most visible spokesperson, Jerry Lewis has been instrumental in raising both funds and awareness.
During the 1950’s, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin co-hosted three television programs that aired in New York, NY. These shows raised more than $1.8 million for the MDA. In 1966, the first MDA Telethon starred comedian Jerry Lewis and ran over Labor Day weekend on a single television station in New York. It was hugely successful, and raised over $1 million for the MDA. For 45 years, Jerry Lewis hosted the MDA Telethon. Over the years, Lewis spent about 900 hours on live television raising funds and awareness for the MDA.
While most visible in his role as MDA Telethon host, Lewis also served the MDA as National Chairperson. He spent much of his time speaking on behalf of the MDA, and meeting with sponsors. Over the years, he corresponded with, spoke to, and met many of the individuals served by the MDA. He has been instrumental in advocacy efforts for neuromuscular disease, leading to increased federal funding for research.
Lewis received many humanitarian awards, including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and receiving the highest civilian award given by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Medal for Distinguished Public Service. He has also been honored by the entertainment industry with many industry awards.
In May, 2011, the MDA announced that Lewis retired as host of the MDA Telethon. In August, 2011, the MDA announced that Lewis retired as national chairman for the MDA. The format for the Telethon also changed in 2011, with the show running for 6 hours during primetime hours. According to the MDA website, the 2011 MDA Telethon earned more than $61 million.
The MDA Telethon opened with comments of tribute to Lewis’ long service as MDA Telethon host and national chairperson from the show’s four hosts to. Later in the show, Celine Dion also paid tribute to Lewis.
Changes to the Telethon and the fact that Lewis will no longer host the Telethon or serve as national chairman for the MDA have created controversy recently. Despite the controversy, I believe that the magnitude of Lewis’ service cannot be denied and will not be forgotten.
In the statement on the MDA website, the MDA Board Chairman Dr. R. Rodney-Howell thanks Lewis for his more than a half---century of service to the MDA. As one of “Jerry’s kids,” I also say thank you, Jerry Lewis, for your many years of service to the MDA and the neuromuscular diseases community.
MDA website, (n.d.). Jerry Lewis: Body of Work. http://www.mda.org/JerryLewis/JLBodyOfWork.htm . Retrieved 9/8/11.
MDA website, (2011). Jerry Lewis Completes Run as MDA Chairman. http://www.mda.org/news/110803.html . Retrieved 9/8/11.
MDA website, (n.d.). MDA Telethon. http://www.mda.org/telethon/history.html . Retrieved 9/8/11.
MDA website, (2011). MDA Prime-Time Telethon Achieves $61.5 Million. http://www.mda.org/news/110905telethon-total.html . Retrieved 9/8/11.
Quest Staff (2011). MDA Labor DayTelethon 2011: Short, Snappy, Sensational. Quest, 18: 3. http://quest.mda.org/article/mda-labor-day-telethon-2011-short-snappy-sensational . Retrieved 9/8/11.
Zeitchik, S., and Vankin, D., (2011). Jerry Lewis ousted as MDA telethon host. Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/05/entertainment/la-et-jerry-lewis-20110805 . Retrieved 9/8/11.
Shamrock images courtesy of the MDA. Used with permission. You can download a Shamrock at https://secure.mdausa.org/myspace/shamrock/ShamrockImages.aspx .