Times change and people change. The Muscular Dystrophy telethon, hosted by comedian Jerry Lewis has been a Labor Day tradition for 45 years.
First broadcasted from New York on Labor Day weekend in 1966 by a single TV station in New York City and hosted by popular comedian Jerry Lewis, the MDA telethon quickly caught the public’s attention and raised an unbelievable $1 million dollars in pledges.
Throughout the years the MDA telethon became a Labor Day tradition broadcasted by 170 stations (The Love Network). In 1998 it was the first telethon seen round the world via Internet simulcast.
Jerry Lewis soon became the chief fund raiser and spokesperson for the MDA and those affected by muscular dystrophy type diseases (Jerry’s Kids). The Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethons hosted by Lewis, along with businesses, civic groups, the TV audience plus Hollywood celebrities raised over $2.5 billion dollars throughout the years. Lewis’ goal was always to raise just “one dollar more than the year before.
Things however, have changed. For the first time in 45 years Jerry Lewis will not be hosting the telethon. The MDA recently announced that Lewis would not appear on this years telethon or serve as its national chairman, a position he has held for 60 years.
The event will be hosted instead by entertainment personalities Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O’Dell. When questioned by reporters, Lewis said that his involvement with the MDA was not finished. He went on to criticize some of the new hosts who are involved in Reality TV.
Even before the ousting MDA had decided to scale down the telethon from 20 hours to 6 because stations were losing interest. Contributions have been declining steadily in recent years.
Also scientific research has shed a new light on the disease. The old notion of fatally sick pitiful poster children has been replaced by the current reality where individuals with muscular dystrophy can live productive lives well into their thirties and beyond. The new image is empowerment not pity.
Lewis’ behavior over the years also prompted his ouster. He has still showcased suffering children to raise money despite medical advancements. In a Parade Magazine article he called some of “Jerry’s Kids” half-persons, unfortunates, and cripples. This was not what his “kids” needed to hear.
At age 85 he has become a loose canon, often using homophobic and sexist language. As he ages he spits out dry and hurtful humor, making his audience cringe and uncomfortable. Stories about his abandonment of his own 8 children from his first marriage surface occasionally.
Politically correct or not the man has raised $2.5 billion dollars for MDA. Many of his fellow comedians disagree with his sudden departure.
Tom Arnold said, “It’s probably time for him to retire, but he should get to say goodbye.”
St. Pete Times