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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.

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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!

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Comments

Colonna May 17, 2011 @ 5:24 p.m.

This is a man who has raised almost $2.5 BILLION DOLLARS and they're giving him the Bert Parks treatment. This is despicable.

Nationwide telethons are a thing of the past - my guess is the MDA Telethon will wither and die in about three years. Looks like we'll always have PBS and their fund-drives now.

I said it last year and I'll say it now - put the OLD Telethons on DVD or PPV and I'll gladly pay money to watch them.


My earliest memory of the Telethon was of a tired Jerry Lewis trying to find the words after beating the previous years total with the final timpani. Jerry admitted "I almost gave up" because the numbers weren't there but was extremely moved that America had come through.

He cued Lou Brown and I experienced his rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" for the first time. I was moved to tears and I was hooked; I seldom missed a Telethon since.

(After doing research, the Telethon in question was 1976 - the year Frank reunited Dean & Jerry!)

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Time1MarchesOn May 17, 2011 @ 10:13 p.m.

The one thing I'm wondering is, the show began in 1966, 45 years ago and Mr. Lewis has raised $2.5 billion so the obvious question is: WHY HASN'T SCIENCE MADE ANY PROGRESS AGAINST THE DISEASE.....??

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Scott Marks May 17, 2011 @ 11:55 p.m.

Probably for the same reason science has yet to find a cure for cerebral palsy, cancer or the common cold. They don't have Jerry Lewis on their side!!!

And I'll have to take exception with you assertion that we've yet to see any signs of progress. There have been tremendous strides taken in Duchenne MD gene therapy. Check out MDA.org. And at the risk of sounding like Julie LaRosa, Telethon money goes towards the treatment of muscular dystrophy patients and also helps to ease the financial burden on their families. The same goes for all the wheelchairs the MDA provides free of charge, the summer camps established for Jerry's kids, etc. There might not be a cure -- and wouldn't it be terrific if they found one in Jerry's lifetime -- but the money spent on the above-mentioned causes is pretty damn progressive in my book.

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bridg12 May 18, 2011 @ 3:20 a.m.

I set up a Facebook account last night entitled 'We want Jerry Lewis to host the MDA Telethon". Just press 'like' when you get there to show your support. Thanks!http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/We-Want-Jerry-Lewis-to-Host-the-MDA-Telethon/185616864823686

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