FIRST PERSON | Jerry Lewis will no longer host the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon this Labor Day weekend, and it saddens me to write those words. True, the man is 85 years old and he has hosted the show for 45 years. Most of the people he worked with on the show have passed away: Ed McMahon, Sammy Davis Jr. and a host of other talents from a bygone era. Even the trope of the telethon has passed away.
Still, I feel sad because it was a tradition in my house to watch Lewis on Labor Day. There are some memories I won’t forget. What he brought to comedy, to movies and to the fight against a terrible disease will never be forgotten.
I will remember Lewis smiling up at me from Parade Magazine with the kids he featured each year in the telethon. Most of those stories broke my heart, but it made me marvel at how strong people are in the face of such adversity. Jerry always made jokes and played the silly clown during the telethon, but when he was with those kids, he turned serious. For him, you could tell that their stories meant the world. He was truly dedicated to raising money to save them, and it showed.
Give Me A Timpani
I loved it when McMahon would interrupt Lewis and tell him that he had a timpani for him. It was exciting watching the numbers on the big money board move. It impressed me that the board was only the money sent in by the common people, not the corporate funds. It made me feel like we were as strong a part of the fight as the big guys. I loved the rolling drum and the turning of the numbers as the new total came up. I loved waiting until the end of the telethon every year to see if he would get just one dollar more than last year. I always hoped he would.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
This song is always Jerry’s song to me. Other performers have done this song — and done it with much more skill — but Jerry’s passionate, emotional crooning always leaves me in tears. My mom and I used to watch the final moments of the telethon together, and after she passed, I imagined that she was with me again, not letting me walk alone either. The song is over the top and probably way too sentimental for some, but it is a part of my childhood that reminds me that I am not alone.
Jerry stood for love, compassion and giving of himself for the good of the people who suffer from muscular dystrophy. I understand that he needs to retire, but I will miss him. A legend must finally say good night.