Jerry Lewis Telethon Controversy: Did the MDA Do Wrong?

on September 05 2011 3:49 PM

The Jerry Lewis Telethon controversy hasn't died down after the annual event took place over the Labor Day weekend in 2011.   

Lewis was absent from the fundraiser, which seeks to raise awareness of and fund research for cures to muscular dystrophy and related conditions.

Lewis did not give his public blessings to the event either (for example, through a press release or video recording).

The Controversy

Back in May, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), with the blessing of Lewis, announced that Lewis would retire from hosting the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon and appear a final time in 2011 to sing his signature song You'll Never Walk Alone. 

 As a labor of love, I've hosted the annual Telethon since 1966, and I'll be making my final appearance on the show this year, said Lewis in the press release.

Then, in August, the MDA abruptly issued a two-paragraph press release announcing that Lewis will not appear at the 2011 program.  This time, the statement had no quotes from him.

Another underlying controversy is Lewis' insult to reality TV shows.  Specifically, he called out American Idol and The Biggest Loser. 

The hosts of the 2011 MDA Telethon, ironically, happened to include Nigel Lythgoe from American Idol, Jann Carl from The Biggest Loser, and Alison Sweeney from The Biggest Loser.

 MDA Praises Lewis

During the MDA Telethon, the ensemble cast of hosts profusely and frequently heaped praises upon Lewis.  They recognized Lewis' enormous contributions to the cause and asserted that no one will ever replace him.

Indeed, the ensemble cast of hosts, which was not dominated by one person, reinforced the impression that no one individual replaced Lewis in the MDA Telethon. 

Criticisms from Fans

Still, fans of Lewis and previous volunteers of the fundraiser asserted that the MDA has no excuse upsetting Lewis and derailing his retirement performance.

Lewis hosted the event for 45 years.  In fact, the event itself was previously named the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

Over the course of his involvement with the MDA and his other activities going back to 1952, Lewis claims to have raised $2.6 billion for the cause.

This was the first Labor Day Telethon that I wasn't answering the phones in 42 years, wrote one Lewis supporter on Facebook.

The MDA Telethon now [has] a little tribute to Jerry showing. I'm not buying it with 12 minutes left to go, it comes off as ass kissing and trying to pretend that everything was with Jerry's approval when you know that wasn't the case, wrote another.

I just left a lengthy voice message at MDA about bringing Jerry Lewis back next year. If we all flood their phone lines, maybe next year Jerry Lewis will host again, wrote another.

Many fans were also at a loss as to how the MDA managed to raise a whopping $61.5 million in 2011 - which is 2.6 million more than 2010 - without Lewis. 

Maybe people expected to see Jerry anyway, or didn't know what was going on and planned to donate anyway. But I fear next year will be a disaster and Jerry's Kids will suffer for it, wrote one person on Facebook.

Before we judge [the MDA], remember Jerry's health and age. Jerry will not live forever but MDA will.  No matter who hosts the show, let's concentrate on a cure to rid muscular dystrophy, wrote another.