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.

253 comments
HappyPreppers
HappyPreppers

Selinium. The answer for MS is selinium. The truth will come out.

Iseeu
Iseeu

It was right at the time when BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA came to power and everything in America was "CHANGED" according to this vicious president who made sure that "HIS" stars were shining up there on the stage, no more great legends because HE, OBAMA was taking over America and HIS NEW CROWD OF PEOPLE were to be the millions of new Muslims that he imported here as well as the millions of other Third World Country "folk" like Obama (who was really born in Kenya -a Third World Country, as well as he was raised in Indonesia, a Third world country).  OF COURSE THE AUDIENCE WOULD BE "DIFFERENT!"  Joan Rivers is gone and so is Tom Clancy, both under unnatural deaths like thousands of others in the Obama Dead Pool List.  TIME magazine supports Obama so there's nothing I can really say that will make a difference now for them to comment on but after almost 8 horrific years of this anti-American tyrant with an Islamic name and who praises his HOLY QUR'AN,  America has had what OBAMA HAS "HOPED FOR AND CHANGED INTO".  Let's point out what he has said about ISLAM: "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam", "We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world - including my own country" (which he forgot to mention, WAS Kenya). He also said, "The sweet sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer" (while he was learning Islam during his formative years in Indonesia; "Islam has always been part of America" and one more: "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance."  Since Obama took power (and it was by fraudulent election practices that got him into power),  many of our great people such as JERRY LEWIS and many others, were systematically cut from the longstanding American culture to implant people that satisfy Obama's cravings in entertainment.  Since Joan Rivers said something truthful about this alleged American president and his "wife", she was killed shortly afterwards, but since Jerry Lewis didn't speak out about Obama, but because he was Jewish, and Obama is anti-semitic, he was spared his life under this 44th president who has been a curse to the USA from day #1! 

DrBuzSawyer
DrBuzSawyer

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CarlC.
CarlC.

Can TIME magazine not afford somebody to moderate the garbage in these comment sections? 

ningrowley2
ningrowley2

SO,,,, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BELOVED JERRY LEWIS. MDA GIT VERY GREEDY. YOU SHOULD NEVER BITE THE HANDS THAT FEED YA. NOT A DIME. I & MILLIONS OTHERS LOVED JERRY LEWIS TO THE MOON ( that means forever cause we will never make it to the moon).

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PatJaeger
PatJaeger

How can I write to Jerry?? Does he know I miss and need him for my son with MD??? The MDA has done nothing for me, try as I might. Jerry made this disease something to battle, not simply fund. Whatever happened with him and the MDA does not reflect my life or desires!


fredteeboom
fredteeboom

I miss the MDA Telethon, always looked forward to it, always donated.


Here is an example of  parasites, despicable germs, really, who throw an icon and giant like Jerry Lewis down the toilet. Jerry Lewis build an empire and these sickos destroy it all for their own twisted ego.  

Iseeu
Iseeu

@fredteeboom Yes, my entire family waited until Labor Day and stayed awake all night to watch the Jerry Lewis telethon up until BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA came into power as the 44th ? American president...then everything and everyone was "CHANGED" just like Obama promised it would be. His "HOPE & CHANGE" was pushed on the American people without them even realizing what happened and we lost great people such as Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers, Tom Clancy and many others while this "despicable germ", this "parasite" has been in office from the end of 2008 and his election, till the 20th of January, 2017 if America can even survive by then?!  Gone is our American heritage and traditions, our great entertainers and philanthropists and in it's place (just like ISIL took over in emptied out Iraq-under Obama's watch),  are schoolchildren being force-fed to learn Islam, millions of Muslims who are getting paid to be here, getting housing, food and subsidies while our Veterans are homeless and this, because we have Barack Hussein Obama to thank!  There will never be another Jerry Lewis but there are billions of Obamas and I pray, when we get an AMERICAN president this time, that he will bring back Jerry after 45 years of life that Jerry Lewis devoted in trying to save and lighten the lives of children with MD in his phenomenal Labor Day telethons!

RoseM.Domenech
RoseM.Domenech

I remember ever Labor Day Jerry Lewis was there. He made everyone aware of MS. Now he was made obsolete.  What has happen to the people of Muscular Dystrophy  Assoc. Do you think without Jerry help you can stand on your own. Is because of Jerry people know about MS. Things have really change.  Thank you Jerry Lewis, for always loving your kids.

AlexSmuckler
AlexSmuckler

Starting in 1950 Jerry Lewis then with his partner Dean Martin had the first Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. Starting in 1966 Jerry Lewis started the annual MD Telethon and in those 45 years raised over 2 billion dollars to help research for a cure for Muscular Dystrophy and assist people who were suffering its effects. How can you people say the telethon is no longer needed. It gave mass exposure to the cause and was a Labor day tradition which you people have destroyed. Good work. 

Iseeu
Iseeu

@AlexSmuckler Perhaps IF we get an AMERICAN PRESIDENT in 2016-2017 IN OFFICE,  we will be able to bring back AMERICAN TRADITIONS and those that really made a difference in each and every life in America and especially to the millions of children who suffered with MD!  Jerry Lewis was their symbol of hope and joy and it all left when this man named BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA came into power.  A lot of things were thrown out of American tradition as well as people (who were eliminated) to bring in the HOPE & CHANGE new and totally different president.  Yes, the telethon is still needed, people are still stricken with MD but with the massive unprecedented and unbelievably high debt Obama has put this nation into, we may all be hurting for generations to come and most of all, the most vulnerable and weakest among us because of Obama. Good people miss Jerry Lewis. Americans miss Jerry Lewis!   

LindaAndrews
LindaAndrews

You people lie like a rug, Jerry Lewis made the telethon and I know for a fact thousands stopped watching when he was taken off. I don't believe you raised 61 million more in 6 hours but if you did it was because everything was last minute so those that made their donations already did. I watched the telethon from when I was a little girl and so disappointed you'd remove the man that made the show, his mistake was thinking because he was getting older he'd hand it over and just do the job he was best at. The kids will suffer because of you're greediness and not wanting to spend money filming it. 

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RalphE.Dietz
RalphE.Dietz

I have watched the telethon, and been a part of it my entire life. Since the geniuses behind it decided Jerry was too old, I am too old to donate! I feel really ripped off for the boot drives I was involved in, and the money I put in myself. Never Again.

MikeBarker
MikeBarker

Just as other people here have stated, a cure was found and this is why he is gone. If you want to know more about it research Dr. Joel Wallach.

truth1221
truth1221

@MikeBarker You are a psychopath. Wallach is a snake oil sales man and he is not even a real doctor. He is a veterinarian. Get your head out of your arse fool.

breezemike
breezemike

The truth about why Jerry Lewis was sacked is very simple!!!!! He was fired because a cure was found for Muscular Dystrophy and those that found the cure (scientifically proven beyond a shadow of doubt to be a deficiency decease) wanted Jerry to be the first to announce it as he had raised millions with his wonderful telethon. 

However the medical system which is owned by the pharmaceutical giants who put profit before people made sure that a cure will not be investigated as that would end their profit and the Muscular Dystrophy Association would be disbanded with everyone loosing their jobs. So they fired him gaged him with a contractual law suit if he spoke out and sent him on a world cruise to get him out the way. "Thats the real truth"!!!!!!!!!! 

We live in a medical system that is only concerned with managing chronic illness not curing it. To cure Chronic deceases means the loss of billions of dollars in profit and possibly the collapse of an industry that employs so many. 

I know this as a researcher over many years and its up to you to do the same if you really want to find "The real truth about health" 

Start looking towards the essential nutrients our bodies need that our body can't make as the fundamental reason why we will probably suffer from a chronic decease in our lifetime. Take care, Stay healthy and god bless Jerry because he is a man so inhumanly fired for daring to tell the truth and shame on those who silenced him and shut him up because he has a contract that gages him legally for telling the world. Mike


TerriBrown
TerriBrown

@breezemike WOW... I BELIEVE YOU.... The Medical Industry is a Business.... A VERY BIG BUSINESS.... People DON'T Matter, Even if you are Jerry Lewis who Dedicated his LIFE to M.D.A and His KID's.... They don't care about anyone but themselves and the BILLIONS of Dollars that the Medical Industry makes.... Everyday...     (Good Bye Jerry Lewis* Well done Good & Faithful Servant) <3 

truth1221
truth1221

@breezemike Lay off the dope. You are a psychopath. MDA has NOT been cured. Stop falling for con men.

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OikwoboTreece

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RoseM.Domenech
RoseM.Domenech

@OikwoboTreece This does belong here. What is wrong with you.  Get over yourself!!  This is about Jerry Kids. Grow up!!!

CarlC.
CarlC.

@LindaAndrews  Why are you talking to a spam bot? Flag it like I did instead of wasting your time talking to nobody. 

scepterandisle
scepterandisle

Actually, I think there's something else going on. Read a report of Lewis's "An Evening With Jerry Lewis" online (http://www.vice.com/read/jerry-lewis-is-still-alive) and Lewis sounds like he's developed a serious personality disorder that makes him sound like a genuine sociopath. My guess is that between his back pain and addiction to Percodan, his life may border on the unlivable, which is what the author of the article implies. He needs to be taking another type of medicine, an antipsychotic, and fast. If the MDA got wind of the article at "Vice", it's no wonder they asked him to retire. 

LindaAndrews
LindaAndrews

@scepterandisle Read above a cure was found for MD and they didn't want Jerry Lewis to announce it, sad since he did all the work and raised all the money to find a cure.

BobAshbaugh
BobAshbaugh

Cure found, Jerry Lewis knew it, but there's no Money in it...and the MDA cut him out to keep his quite.


thetenofus
thetenofus

I always said:

"You need to know when to quit".

He was funny (sort off) when I was 19 But NOw!!!!

He is just not funny.

Give it a rest.

GeorgeSchadel
GeorgeSchadel

Doing what they did to Jerry was the most despicable thing I have ever seen!  He IS the face of MDA and there is no way they raised more money than he a year after he was forced out.  That is just a flat out lie.  People still watched the telethon every year.  They got the message and they donated.  These 40+ diseases attack any and everyone.  They do not discriminate and there is absolutely NO government money (not one penny) spent on research.  It ALL comes from the donations that Jerry worked so hard and so long for.  The truly sad thing about this is that now MDA is receiving millions less in donations after they forced out Mr. Lewis and the only ones who suffer then are the ones stricken with these diseases. you know.....JERRY'S KIDS! Because that's who they are.  Every one of them.

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SmithReggie
SmithReggie

Jerry Lewis is under a non-disclosure agreement, he was ousted because he went to MDA with information concerning a cure. They told him we won't make any money if we find a cure and they fired him on the spot. Google this, Dr. Wallach a veterinarian and Naturopathic doctor, discovered a selenium deficiency in almish communities is connected with their high rates of MD. He also could reverse MD in animals by injecting them with Selenium. Honest truth here people. Money is the root of all evil.

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TomDuCharme
TomDuCharme

I Have been a Jerry's kid for 40 years. I think the money is going to the wrong places. They no longer help kids get wheelchairs AND A LOT OF OTHER THINGS THEY USE TO HELP WITH. I know because i have M.D. All the time I've  been going to the M.D. clinics for 30 years and never have heard or got any kind of drug that will help, so if they have a cure they are keeping it very quite. I am very mad also that they pissed off Jerry and i know longer  go to the clinics. I still give. 

RhondelWilson
RhondelWilson

Jerry Lewis got fired because Dr Wallach presented him with a years of research and practical evidence of a cure for MDA and he presented the information to the MDA foundation with the intention of announcing that a cure had been found. They fired him because of this because then there would be no more telethons and no more money being collected. 

myhostingteam
myhostingteam

@RhondelWilson 

EXCELLENT Answer! You're correct sir!

Dr. Wallach sued the FDA 8 times and won each time. What does this have to do with anything? If you read this, go google Dr. Joel Wallach and you will be amazed at how stupid your Doctor is.