I admit it -- when I was a young boy, Jerry Lewis was one of my comic heroes. I simply loved his films, including The Errand Boy, Cinderfella and of course, The Nutty Professor. I also remember staying up late every Labor Day weekend to watch the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon which Lewis hosted for 44 years. Jerry Lewis didn't just appear on the telethon -- he WAS the telethon and the children we were all asked to help were "Jerry's kids." As worthwhile a cause that giving to the MDA remains, I suspect the organization would have collected only a small fraction of the nearly $2.5 billion it has received under Jerry's tireless watch..
I was privileged to spend an afternoon with Lewis in August, 2010 as he prepared for his annual televised marathon. His health was good and his spirits were even better. He used an electric scooter to travel from department to department, checking in on the editing of taped pieces and glancing at the ever-changing line-up of talent scheduled to perform. At 84, Lewis still exhibited the zaniness and irrepressibly energy which first earned him fame in his 20s. I was most taken by the fact that so many of the people on his production team had worked with him for decades.
I cannot convey the shock and sadness I felt upon reading that this year's telethon, which was supposed to be Lewis' final stint as host, was going on without the famous front-man at the helm. Not only was Lewis not appearing on the show, he was no longer even associated with MDA. He was denied the opportunity to say goodbye to the two generations of viewers who had grown up watching the funnyman. I cannot imagine why Lewis' departure was so abrupt and, on the surface, so blatantly disrespectful to his near half-century of commitment to MDA. I admit that I don't know the real reasons behind the organization's firing of Jerry Lewis and perhaps none of us ever will. What will MDA say to the young boys and girl they help, about why the man who had embraced their cause for nearly a half century is no longer there? I am mindful that the charity's goal is to find a cure for them. For much of his life, that was also Jerry Lewis' singular mission. Even without Lewis around to speak on their behalf, to me, they will always be Jerry's kids.
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