Jeff Smith 2:30 p.m., June 26
Jerry Lewis announces he's retiring as host of the MDA Telethon
This is one of the saddest days of my adult life.
Jerry Lewis has been with me for as long as I can remember. With his yacht docked in San Diego, he's practically my neighbor. My first introduction came when I was five in the form of a reissue double bill of "The Sad Sack" and "The Delicate Delinquent," both a safe distance from the Pantheon, and I haven't stopped laughing since.
When was the last time I saw the light of day on Labor Day weekend? 1965, to be exact. The following year Jerry's annual love-in to raise money to help fight neuromuscular disease went nationwide. Not that I logged all 21 1/2 hours at the tender age of 11, but the seed was planted and by the time my sweet 16 rolled around I was in it for the duration. For 45-years I have walked through countless storms, always with my head held high. This year, the final timpani will sound for Jerry.
It has probably been close to a decade since I pulled a Labor Day all-nighter. In its heyday, the middle of the night frequently provided many show highlights. With his bow tie loosened and an ever present cigarette butt going, Jerry would storm the stage threatening to name names if a certain major casino didn't beat last year's pledge. He would even go so far as to ask coke addicts to put down their straws just long enough to make a call. (See video below.) When Old Man Time began rearing its ugly head, Jerry (and Ed McMahon) started taking catnaps between the hours of midnight and 6 am. Without JL to guide me during the wee small hours -- featuring instead remote segments of Branson, Missouri, local news anchors, and weathermen who took over the hosting duties -- the show was a goner.
Last October came the news that the MDA was planning to prune the Extra Special Special to six hours. After logging some 900 hours on the air, the announcement on the MDA website did not even mention Jerry. Some tribute to a man who spent the greater portion of his life raising money to fight muscular dystrophy.
Today, as it must to all Telethon emcees, the hatchet fell in the form of a press release on the MDA website. Jerry has announced this year will mark his last Labor Day Telethon. "As a labor of love," he said, "I've hosted the annual Telethon since 1966, and I'll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone'." He also added, "It's time for an all new Telethon era."
Fortunately for his kids, Jerry will continue to serve as the National Chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. "I'll never desert MDA and my kids."
Already people are asking who I think is best qualified to fill Jerry's shoes. No one. Walk on, JL!
More like this:
- 'Love Network' leveled as Jerry-less Telethon moves to ABC — July 18, 2013
- Jerry Lewis to Judge American Idol?! — July 11, 2012
- The Jerry Lewis Telethon That Never Was — Sept. 6, 2011
- Comedians Rally to Support Former Telethon Host Jerry Lewis — Aug. 10, 2011
- Jerry Lewis Out as MDA Chairman and Telethon Host — Aug. 4, 2011