Why Did Jerry Lewis Leave the Telethon?

The star’s sudden departure last year from his Labor Day showcase has still not been explained. But it’s not a pretty story

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Marco Grob for TIME

Jerry Lewis, photographed at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.

Not since, oh, Martin and Lewis has there been a showbiz breakup as sudden and inexplicable. Last year the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced that Jerry Lewis was stepping down as host of its annual Labor Day telethon, the marathon TV event he had made his personal showcase, soap box and sentimental journey for 45 years. With the show cut from 21.5 hours to just 6, Lewis was being replaced by a quartet of hosts, the MDA said, and would make an appearance only at the end of the show, to say goodbye and sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” one last time.

Then what seemed the sad but inevitable end of an era became something uglier. A few weeks before the show, the MDA issued a curt announcement that Jerry Lewis would not be making a goodbye appearance after all  — and was resigning from his post as MDA national chairman. The telethon went on without him (raising $61.5 million, more than the previous year with Lewis, according to the MDA) and included a filmed tribute to him and warm words of thanks from various participants during the show. But no Jerry.

(PHOTOS: Still Nutty: Portraits of Jerry Lewis by Marco Grob)

A year later, Lewis has been all but erased from the telethon’s memory. This year’s show, airing the Sunday night before Labor Day, has been further downsized, to just three hours, with no named host and a smattering of B-list guest stars (Carrie Underwood, Will.i.am, Khloe Kardashian). It is no longer called a telethon, but simply an “entertainment special,” and there will be no tote board tallying the donations. In the press announcement of the event, Jerry Lewis’s name is nowhere mentioned.

The story behind Lewis’s departure remains untold. But a few things have become clear in the year since the awkward public breakup. Jerry Lewis was dumped by the MDA, the charity he had been identified with since the 1950s. He’s still bitter about it. And the telethon is withering without him.

(MORE: Jerry Lewis’ Oscar)

Lewis still won’t talk about what happened. “That’s not a place I want to go. Because if I go there, you’ll never get me back,” he said when I raised the subject with him recently in Nashville, where he’s directing a new stage musical, The Nutty Professor. “It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it. But I have already ingested all that I want from that whole f—ing adventure.”

The pain is not hard to discern. “This was a hurt man,” says Richard Belzer, the stand-up comic and Law and Order co-star, who has developed a close, almost father-son relationship with Lewis. Jerry’s goodbye appearance was scrapped after he and the charity could not agree on its format and length. Lewis wanted to do it live; the MDA floated several pre-taped options  — “all insulting,” Belzer claims. “It’s as if they were trying to provoke him to leave.” In the end, he did. “It was a moral outrage, a PR nightmare and a sad commentary on this incredible philanthropic career,” says Belzer.

(MORETop 10 Celebrity Do-Gooders)

To be sure, dealing with Lewis, now 86, has never been a walk in the park. His annual Labor Day orgy of sentiment, self-regard and showbiz schmaltz was for many years something of a punch line. (“You know why they love Jerry Lewis in France,” a comedian told me not long ago. “In France, they don’t get the telethon.”) Still, he raised an estimated $2 billion for “Jerry’s kids” over more than a half-century with the MDA, and a well-orchestrated, celebrity-studded farewell to him on the telethon might have been a fundraising bonanza.

MDA officials continue to maintain that Lewis simply retired. “We honor Jerry Lewis, we admire the work he’s done for us, and we respect his decision to retire,” says Valerie Cwik, the MDA’s interim president. (She replaced Gerald Weinberg, who was reportedly behind Lewis’s ouster and who stepped down as president last December, after 54 years with the organization.) And she insists that the changes in the telethon are part of a necessary evolution in fundraising strategy, to put less emphasis on the once-a-year event. “It has to change because the American audience has changed,” says Cwik. “A 21.5-hour show doesn’t fit in a 140-character world.”

Neither, apparently, does Jerry Lewis.

Read the full story in this week’s issue of TIME.

195 comments
rpsabq
rpsabq

the telethon was never about the kids, get real.  It was always and still is about Jerry f-ing Lewis.  Shut up and go change your diaper old man.

leona
leona

every year since I was a little girl my parents had us kids (8) of us watch the Jerry Lewis labor day telethon. I'm now 56 yrs old today, and surprise that the telethon is no longer on television, hosted by Jerry Lewis. I've been told when I was little that I should be happy, and greatful that I was born a healthy child, and the purpose for this labor day telethon is to help others who has a medical disability (MDA) Muscular Distrophy. help raise money to help others find a cure for this dease. My mother a nurse for many years, my father a heavy equipment operater , has given us kids the most wounderful childhood life any child would want. we was not rich, nor was we poor. we have been raised by the best parents in our lives, and taught us how to be thankful, & greatful that we are alive & well. Always teach others to respect and "LOVE" know matter what circumstances always "LOVE" 

GenevraViens
GenevraViens

I feel Jerry Lewis should have remained doing the telethon, due to the love, and hard work he has given all these years. I will not donate no longer, until I see Jerry return. Not that I don't care no longer, but the trust, and sincere dedication that Jerry has given, is no longer there. He was the one who made that telethon so successful, and now, it's gone. He spent years of his life doing this amazing telethon for his kids, and made alot of dreams come true, and now, the way I see it, is YES, his viewers are hurting, and so is Jerry, but Jerry's kids are the ones that are suffering, all of Jerry's kids, that he made feel special, and worthy of themselves, no longer have that without Jerry. He is an Angel sent from Heaven, and ya'll should reconsider, and bring our Angel back to the telethon. He has the right to remain the chairman. His viewers, and Jerry's kids miss him, and I will not even watch the telethon without him. Jerry, thank you for the many years of love, and great telethons you presented, I have always looked forward to Labor Day, cause I knew the telethon was on, and that one dollar more would have been made. Please bring Jerry back, so that our future "Jerry's Kids" can have the HOPE, and SPECIAL LOVE that Jerry has to offer. I love you Jerry Lewis, and the good Lord above has very special things in store for you, and to let you know, my Labor Day is not the same without your telethon. They should be ashamed of themselves, for hurting you, and your viewers, but most of all, for hurting your KIDS. There is no one who can fill your shoes, today, tomorrow, NOT EVER. I pray you will be back on Your telethon next year. I love you Jerry, You are amazing.

marthadelaney14
marthadelaney14

I feel for them I would not donate because jerry lewis is not on the show channel 7 shame on you

LoriAnderson
LoriAnderson

This is the thanks he gets for everything he has done for them? How cruel and heartless can they be! MD has lost all faith I had in them. Shows just how much they really care about those who are suffering from this disease.

CyndamarieAdkinsGunn
CyndamarieAdkinsGunn

Jerry Lewis did not step down . that is a media LIE !   He was fired because he wouldn't kiss the  butts of the producers ..  I think it is discusting and  a real shame , this man did this for 60 plus years.  and he was kicked to the curb .  now,  MDA telethon is what 4 hours...   it's a joke.    People who suffer with this illness deserve more..  You all can have a telethon for Haiti and raise a few billion dollars. .ask to help your own fellow american's  and we get a couple million ..Cheers... (one real pissed off MD suffer) 

JamesAnastos
JamesAnastos

I used to work for him many years ago and what I know he was very sick at the time when I knew him

chuck.knoblauch.2base
chuck.knoblauch.2base

Jerry found out that MS is caused by a mineral deficiency. It is not a genetic disorder. Jerry learned a lesson in true evil and left.

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Hooty13
Hooty13

It was 45 years too long with Jerry Lewis--ego as big as the universe.  How much money did ever contribute to the MDA?  Find the answer and you'll know what I'm talking about!

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toolmaker5268
toolmaker5268

heres what happened to jerry lewis. dr. joel Wallach. found the cure for ms. told jerry lewis about the break thru. jerry went to his people and said weve got the cure. then they fired him cause they don't want cures they wanna treat you forever to make money. how sick is that

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MarjanViki

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andersen73ja
andersen73ja

Maybe Jerry will eventually comment publicly on this. Privately, he and Dr Joel Wallach were collaborating prior to his dismissal from the MDA. Dr Wallach has worked in animal research for the US government since the 1960's. What he has found is that offspring in utero will only express the gene responsible for Muscular dystrophy if the Mother in utero is deficient in certain nutrients. Particularly Selenium. Moreover, if a child is born with MD and supplemented with Selenium shortly after birth, the disease can be seriously mitigated if not halted and/or reversed. Dr Wallach has been doing this with children for many years. Mr Lewis took this information to the MDA, and was promptly relieved from his post. Why ?  One can only surmise, if there's a cure, they are out of business  ?  


http://planet.infowars.com/health/labor-day-is-right-around-the-corner




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TinaFaith-Lewis
TinaFaith-Lewis

It is unfortunate that took place. Jerry was the face of the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I do not think we will never know the truth, but I do not believe Jerry would up and leave is Kids, no one will ever make me believe that simply retired from MDA.  MDA will never be able to make as much money as when Jerry was there. I grew up watching the show, and even collected the money for his kids. Do the right thing MDA and hire him back as the one and only host of this Telethon, I mean what is left of it.

DarrenCaschera
DarrenCaschera

LIKE WTF HAPPENED???!! I USED TO LOVE WATCHING THE LABOR DAY TELETHON ALSO..NOW ITS OVER..SH_T!! IM 47 YRS OLD, I LIVE IN FT LAUD FL.. AND I USED TO LOOK FWD TO WATCHING JERRY LEWIS WHOM IS AN ICON!! AND HE GOT F_KED OVER BY MDA..THE NERVE OF MDA!!! AFTER ALL HE HIS FOR THIS ORGANIZATION..I JUST DONT GET IT.. I KNOW JERRY IS SICK ALSO..MAYBE THATS Y HE QUIT THE SHOW HE CREATED ALSO.. WITHOUT JERRY MDA IS GOING NOWHERE FAST..DOWNHILL.. AND IM SORRY FOR ALL THE FAMILIES OF MDA! IM REALLY JUST PISSED OFF AND BESIDES MYSELF OVER THIS..JERRY LEWIS COME ON MDA WTF!!?? HES HELPED SOOO MANY PEPS.. I SO USED TO LOOK FWD TO WATCHING HIM ONCE A YR EVER YR..AND YOU (MDA) TOOK THIS AWAY FROM AN ICON..YYYYY??? REALLY NOW COME ON...AS IM READING OVER POSTS ON THIS SUBJECT..ALOT OF PEPS R REALLY PISSED OFF OVER JERRY NOT HOSTING THE MDA TELETHON ANYMORE..I DONT KNOW WHAT ELSE 2 SAY..  FOR ALL THESE YRS OF WATCHING A FUN, KUL SHOW..THAT TOTALLY HELPED SOO MANY..TKS MDA FOR NOTHING!!

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1man
1man

Taking away Jerry Lewis, out of the telethon, was like u may as well had killed him off... Why is it people "BITCH" about a 21.5 hour show, when it was only "ONCE A YEAR" & at no other time, & yet he was not only the "MAN" of the show, he was the "LEGEND", like the "MAIN SPOKESMAN" as well the "KING" of the show, & taking him out of the show, to run it by other stars of course, who were not the main purpose of the show, was like, taking the "MAIN SOURCE" of the "STAR LEGEND" who put that show together, not only ran it for so many years as he did, but he was the man who brought "MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY" to everybody's attention, like nobody else ever could, & I believe that's why he had his show go on at 21.5 hours, for the traditional time, that he always did... Jerry Lewis was the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, Jerry Lewis was "LABOUR DAY WEEKEND".. Jerry Lewis, when u saw his show come on, it for tradition, was the sign of the end of "SUMMERTIME" "BUT" in very good cause... He was like, let's leave all this "GUNG-HO" for a while, which most TV entertainment is, to be like saying "LET'S GET INTO REALITY" for a change, in these next 21.5 hours, & yet he did too...There was nobody in my opinion, who could make people realize, reality, as he did, in his ways of showing & explaining of what muscular dystrophy was, the entertainers, he brought to his show, helped such people all over the world, including the sufferers, of M.D., as well, not only get into his show, but to try & smile, for once & for all, & that was a "LOT OF WORK" on Jerry's part... The funds raised was all for M.D.A., & what became, was "TREMENDOUS" over the years, along with everything he made his show ever could be, was not fair in my opinion, to just get rid of him in all the avenues that he served & prospered for, was just not fair, to him or his show... It was like "KILLING" one of the greatest "TRADITIONS" ever was......

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ChiliBoots
ChiliBoots

2 Billion Dollars, over 60 years, and they still have no cure??

After all that, if you can't find one, you aren't looking for one. 

Like Diabetes, the money is in 'treatment', not in any 'cure'.



HowardStone
HowardStone

I'M SORRY TO SAY THIS THE MDA F--ED OVER JERRY LEWIS ...THE MDA WOULD NOT BE WHERE THEY ARE NOW JERRY LEWIS MDA THE MDA SO POPULAR GROWING UP I LOOKED FORWARD TO WATCH THE 24 HOUR TELETHON  NOW IT JUST 3 HOURS AND WAS A BIG WAST OF A TIME SLOT FROM HERE ON OUT I FEEL THAT THE MDA IS A SCAM AND WILL NOT DONATE A SINGLE PENNY TO THEM I AM SORRY FOR THE FAMILY'S WITH MD AND HOPE THEY GET A CURE COME ON IT HAS BEEN ON SINCE MY LIFETIME OF 42 YEARS AND STILL NO CURE SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE.

mrusin11041
mrusin11041

So. they claim they made around $55 Million this year.  However, in an article produced by the MDA, they admit the IFA raised $26.2 Million.  The Tote Board they use includes Corporate Sponsors, but never included them in the Lewis days.  If you deduct the remaining Corporate Sponsors, they are lucky to have a few Million in pledges.  In the last 2 years, they have taken to "creative Financing" on their Form 990 and say Telethon Pledges are among other "special event" funds.  They don't have the never to post exactly what the Pledges are the last 3 telethons because they have dropped like a Lead Zeppelin.  They believe the public is stupid and will buy into their reporting.  They lost $14 Million last year.  This is truly an organization in trouble.  It would be nice to see them as a lead story in "60 Minutes" this season!

LurkingGrue
LurkingGrue

Labor day isn't going to be the same without Jerry on that Telethon that I wasn't watching.

RodTimmons
RodTimmons

Jerry Lewis is an icon --A good & decent person who did a lot of great things for these unfortunate kids & adults - so what if he got a little out of it for himself , he deserved it ! What he did not deserve is this corporate takeover of the hard work a telethon takes to put together & the boot after all he did to build this great work of art .Thank you Jerry & hope your kids still get the funds these deserve as well - Godspeed good man ! Ciao, Rod Timmons 

PaigeDillon
PaigeDillon

Jerry's profanity and big mouth did him in.  Oh, and that ego.  Size of Texas ego.  He lost his funny decades ago, and all the profanity-laced tirades in the world can't fix that. 

PastorMarettaR
PastorMarettaR

PastorMarettaR

I watched the MDA telethon for years knowing I would be able to learn about this debilitating illness that attacks so many, I loved watching the heart felt moments I would feel from Jerry Lewis and many of the other Celebrities I would see on the telethon I cried with him when he sang the closing song "You'll never walk alone", at the age of 16 I had the honored chance of going and working with Jerry and his kids at the Summer Camp but that didn't happen because of life events.  I later in life went on to go to Tech. College and as a member of the student body got the chance to go answer the phones for the telethon in Topeka, KS it was a great opportunity for me I loved it....later I learned that Jerry Lewis himself has been inflicted with this now all of a sudden I turn it on this yr. and find that Jerry isn't even on to host what he had lived,slept and made his everything year after year...yeah I have heard all the stories of him allegedly skimming money off the top of the donations I CAN'T REALLY BELIEVE THIS he does not present himself to be that kind of person because of the love and admiration he always had expressed that he had for the MDA Organization and the Kids he was helping when they would announce break through he would cry with happiness and others would do the same.  Shoot when I gave birth to my first baby I donated on her behalf, I have watched and watched without Jerry Lewis there I will not, can not ever partake in this Labor Day Viewing. I do however hope it is with God that they find a Cure for this soon, I hope that Jerry Lewis lives a very blessed life for the rest of his days and God places his hedge of thorns around him and his family......THANK YOU Jerry Lewis for all you have done will do and can do Bless YOU God Love you

OneMoreTruthSeeker
OneMoreTruthSeeker

@TinaFaith-Lewis He was forced out and had to sign a gag order because he met a doctor who was able to reverse 24 patients of MD.  When J. Lewis approached MDA about this doctor they were not interested.  It is all about the billions of dollars.  They aren't looking for a cure.  It is all a guise just like with cancer.  The "natural" forms of prevention cannot be patented so there is no money in it.  And the government is shutting down and going after doctors who have done the studies and have had the results.  Manipulation, corruption and greed is why!

OneMoreTruthSeeker
OneMoreTruthSeeker

@TinaFaith-Lewis He was forced to sign a gag order preventing him from saying why.  The reason why is he met a doctor who was able to reverse 24 patients of MD.  When he went to the MDA and told them they should meet with this doctor, they refused; hence J. Lewis' departure.  They don't want a cure just like with cancer.  It will kill the multi-billion dollar medical industry and other businesses that profit.  It is all about greed and money not health and cures.


1man
1man

@LurkingGrue Yes!!! Labour Day sure won't ever be the same, ever again, without Jerry!!! He was "LABOUR DAY" weekend, he was the end to "SUMMERTIME" as he made everybody, in adults & children, come to realize, what "REALITY" really was, which kids like teens both need a tweet upon, especially before going back to school, the next day.. That's why he had a show go 21.5 hours, like nobody else ever would, just so that everybody from men, women & children of all races, all religions, of all colours, rich & poor come together to see the reality that Jerry has discovered in such unfortunates, like no one else ever could... & that's why I say "I'M GLAD FOR JERRY" but I'm not glad of his colleagues or employees, etc..etc..

ufquack
ufquack

You know who has a an ego bigger than Texas, North America, South America, Europe, Africa...ehem...the world, Oprah Winfrey and I'm betting someone like yourself probably wouldn't utter a damm word about her.

ufquack
ufquack

@PaigeDillon Bs! more likely it was due to political correctness because at least Lewis was being more honest than most.

ChiliBoots
ChiliBoots

@PastorMarettaR  

God doesn't have a hedge of thorns. That's the Other Guy. And they aren't even looking for a cure, Precious.