TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Comedian Jerry Lewis is no longer serving
as the Muscular Dystrophy Association's national chairman and won't
be appearing on this year's Labor Day telethon, the nonprofit
agency announced Wednesday night.
Lewis, 85, has been the MDA's national chairman since the early
1950s and has hosted the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association
telethon since 1966.
He announced in May that he was retiring as host of the telethon
that has become synonymous with his name. But Lewis added that he
planned to make his final appearance on this year's Sept. 4, show
and planned on continuing to serve as MDA's national chairman.
MDA Chairman of the Board R. Rodney Howell said in a statement
that Lewis "will not be appearing on the telethon" and "we will
not be replacing him as MDA national chairman."
Howell added that Lewis "is a world-class humanitarian and
we're forever grateful to him for his more than half century of
generous service to MDA."
The statement did not provide any further explanation for the
moves, and calls to the Tucson, Ariz,-based nonprofit weren't
immediately returned Wednesday night. Representatives for Lewis, a
publicist and a manager, also did not immediately respond to
messages left for comment.
Lewis, a Las Vegas resident, has in recent years battled a
debilitating back condition, heart issues and the crippling lung
disease pulmonary fibrosis.
MDA officials said more than $1 billion has been raised during
Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons over the years and a
national network of some 200 hospital-affiliated clinics has opened
since Lewis became involved in the telethon.
Lewis' first live Labor Day weekend telethon in 1966 was
broadcast by a single New York City television station. It raised
more than $1 million in pledges.
The telethon moved from New York to Las Vegas in 1973 and had
stints in Los Angeles before returning in 2006 to Las Vegas.
Last year's Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon aired from the South Coast
hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip and was broadcast by more than
170 stations. It raised almost $59 million to fund research to find
a cure for muscular dystrophy and ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
The live telethon usually lasts 21 1/2 hours. Sometimes Lewis
would sing or tell lighthearted jokes. He introduced guests and
other performers like a ringmaster. Sometimes, he turned serious
and shared stories of people afflicted by the disease or who were
helped by the association. All the while, he urged donors to
contribute while a tote board rang up pledge totals.
Some telethon moments have made history.
In Las Vegas during the 1976 telethon, Lewis was reunited by
Frank Sinatra with Dean Martin, with whom the comedian had an
acrimonious split 20 years earlier. The famous entertainer best
known for his slapstick humor first teamed with Martin in the 1940s
to play nightclubs and television shows and to make a series of
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