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Jerry Lewis on the MDA telethon: Five memorable moments [Video]

August 4, 2011 |  2:51 pm

Jerry Lewis MDA telethon

Jerry Lewis may have a big, new documentary coming to Encore this October, but you won't see him hosting the annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. Even though this year's telethon was reportedly going to be the last for the 85-year-old comedian, the MDA released a statement Thursday confirming that Lewis was off the telethon and out of the organization effective immediately.

Lewis has been hosting telethons for the MDA since 1952, but the national Labor Day telethon we're all familiar with began in 1966. Now that era is over. There will be new hosts for the telethon and money will still be raised, but we won't have Jerry Lewis to kick around anymore.

Photos: Jerry Lewis

Here, then, is a look back at five of the most memorable moments from the telethon's first 4 1/2 decades -- a time that future generations will come to know as the "Jerry Years."

1968: Jerry Dearest. Jerry Lewis brought movie star (and future "Mommie Dearest" subject) Joan Crawford onto the telethon to donate a check for $5,000 and read a poem of questionable taste entitled, "The Clumsy, Falling-Down Child," which ends with a child with muscular dystrophy dying. After the slurring and quite possibly intoxicated star finished the poem, Lewis briefly brought out her daughter Christina (yes, the poor wire hangers girl) before Crawford grabbed the child's arm to take her to work the phones.

1976: Jerry and Dean are reunited by the Chairman of the Board. After a very successful comedy partnership and a very public split, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were reunited for the first time in 20 years live on the telethon by none other than Frank Sinatra. The moment was giddy and awkward and funny and the undisputed highlight of Lewis' nearly six decades of hosting the telethon.


2003: Jerry is huge in France and America. In the spring of 2001, Lewis began taking steroid treatments to ease the effects of his chronic lung ailment, pulmonary fibrosis. A side effect of the treatments caused the once-svelte comedian to swell up to 242 pounds. Though he eventually got off the steroids and shed the weight, his girth was most noticable during the 2003 edition of the telethon.

2007: Jerry uses a homophobic slur. While clowning around with a cameraman, Lewis uttered an unfortunate three-letter word. He later apologized for using the word.

Unknown date 2010: Jerry sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" to end the telethon. Reports conflict (mostly from Lewis himself) as to when exactly he began singing this Broadway showtune at the conclusion of the telethon, but it became his signature telethon bit. During his final performance, in 2010, he claimed he was singing the song for the 59th time, meaning that 1952 was its first performance. However, in 2007, he said that he'd been performing the song annually since 1964. Further clouding matters is a fundraiser single released in 1959 that features Lewis performing the song. The mystery continues.


Photos: Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis reveals method to his madness

Jerry Lewis has hosted his last MDA telethon

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Photos, from top: Jerry Lewis hosts his final MDA telethon in 2010; steroid treatments led Lewis to put on extra weight, which he later shed. Credits: Eric McCandless / Associated Press;  Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times