Home Celebrity Jerry’s Kids No More: How Jerry Lewis Got Pink Slipped by MDA

EXCLUSIVE: Jerry Lewis–the Hollywood legend–has been kicked to the curb by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. After 45 years, he’s out as their public face, and the host of their annual TV telethon. Indeed, the telethon itself is pretty much cooked: it’s been reduced to six hours from its traditional twenty one and a half and air just on Sunday night, not even on Labor Day itself. All the drama of staying up overnight, will Jerry make it, will they reach their goal: it’s all over.

What you don’t know is that no one ever told Jerry. And that last fall, after the Labor Day telethon was over, the MDA people made the decisions and never informed Lewis.

Lewis finished last year’s MDA telethon with a flourish. He was 84, and had done the show since 1966. He’d actually been hosting MDA telethons since 1952–fifty eight years, folks, since before he was in the Rat Pack with Dean, Frank, and Sammy!

So it was more than a surprise when in early October the MDA board issued a press release about the following year. Did you miss that press release? So did Lewis. No one told him about it beforehand. And the release didn’t mention his name. It was then that the MDA board signaled they were ditching Lewis, who made awareness of Muscular Dystrophy an international phenomenon.

Here’s the link to it: http://www.mda.org/news/101006telethon-format.html. You’ll notice that Lewis’s name is mentioned only in passing, as a reference to his on camera reunion one year with Dean Martin. Otherwise, it’s like he had nothing to do with MDA or the telethon at all.

Earlier this summer, MDA announced, tersely, that Lewis would not be appearing on this year’s Labor Day telethon. This was after a statement from Jerry in May that this year would be his last.

It’s more than a little dispiriting. Lewis worked like crazy for MDA for most of his life. Many times he had to fight accusations that he was pocketing the dough that came in. The MDA kids became known all over the globe as “Jerry’s Kids”– it was shorthand that built from grassroots efforts. Was he a high maintenance front man? Undoubtedly. But like Sharon Stone with AmFAR, Lewis gave a high profile to a disease and a cause that most people didn’t care about.

The facts: Lewis is not mentioned anywhere on the MDA’s Form 990 tax filing. No salary, no expenses. The head of MDA, a man named Gerald Weinberg, got $373,000 last year. All told, in 2009 MDA disbursed $53.5 million in grants. They claimed $75 million, however, in salaries and other compensation. The top executives earned a total of  about $1.4  million. The main outside consultants reaped a total of $6 million. Again, Lewis’s name doesn’t appear at all.

The one disturbing thing about the MDA’s Form 990: sixteen cash disbursements totaling almost $3 million. There’s no indication where that money went or what it was used for other than, vaguely, “research,” in Europe and Asia. Similar unspecified cash payouts have appeared on previous tax filings.

Now the clock is ticking down to Labor Day weekend. MDA says Lewis will not be on the show, which indeed will run just from 6pm to midnight. When I spoke to him yesterday, Jerry told me: “I can’t talk about it until after Labor Day.” Will he beam himself into the broadcast, like the Green Goblin in “Spider Man”? Frankly, why bother? Jerry Lewis is bigger than MDA. He’s a legend. But it is true, no good deed goes unpunished. And in today’s culture, you’re not rewarded at the end of a great, long run. You’re kicked in the ass. But Lewis knows how many kids and families he helped. And they know it, too.

The whole real MDA Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon is over, my friends. In its place will be this sort of lame, lackluster generic show with a bunch of blond commentators who have no history with Las Vegas or entertainment. It’s another sign of the times.


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26 replies to this post
  1. Maybe Jerry will eventually comment publicly on this. Privately, he and Dr Joel Wallach were collaborating prior to his dismissal from the MDA. Dr Wallach has worked in animal research for the US government since the 1960’s. What he has found is that offspring in utero will only express the gene responsible for Muscular dystrophy if the Mother in utero is deficient in certain nutrients. Particularly Selenium. Moreover, if a child is born with MD and supplemented with Selenium shortly after birth, the disease can be seriously mitigated if not halted and/or reversed. Dr Wallach has been doing this with children for many years. Mr Lewis took this information to the MDA, and was promptly relieved from his post. Why ? One can only surmise, if there’s a cure, they are out of business?

  2. I briefly dated the ex husband of an MDA CEO. He told me stories of bottomless expense accounts and lavish all paid trips complete with snifters if $250 per shot cognac. The man I dated tried to resist the indulgences, feeling that the money should go to children’s needs with muscular dystrophy. He was curtly informed that the is the way MDA operates and he was expected to keep his mouth shut.
    I no longer just donate to mda. I put my money into local foodshelves instead. They are self supporting and serve families through all volunteer teams.

  3. Every year I looked forward to Labor Day MDA with Jerry. It would be on our Tv for the whole shows duration. I have not donated the last two years and probably won ‘t again. Bring Jerry back and I ‘ll think about doing it again.

  4. A BIG THANK U TO U JERRY. I remember my first telethon. I was eight yrs old. I asked my mom if I could go asked for donations from our familys. She said ok. I also walked 5 or 6 blocks going door to door. I collected 50.00. So every year after that I would walk up and down my street. Every yr I would get a little more. We had a local tv station where I still live at. I was 6 months pregnant and I was in charge of all the food for all our volleteers. I was up the whole night. But I knew this was for Jerrys kids. I would still send in my donations to Jerry Lewis telethon. In my heart it will always be the JERRY LEWIS TELETHON. LOVE U JERRY. ERIKA

  5. MDA treated Jerry with total disrespect. Until they publicly apologize, they will never be able to due justice to the patients and families they represent. They brought dishonor and embarrassment on all of us who supported MDA for a lifetime.

  6. As long as I can remember, my Labour Day Weekend consisted of watching THE JERRY LEWIS MDS TELETHONand pledging AND PAYING MY PLEDGE.
    I wrote to your organization a number of times stating that I would never donate another dollar until we, the supportive public, knew why ??? you DUMPED Jerry.
    To date, we ( or at least I !!) have NO IDEA…
    What fools you are … look at the millions of dollars this has cost you ? And know what else, I honestly TRIED to find it on our cable network and couldnt. Not even you SHORT PRETAPED VERSION.. I cant wait to hear ??? read???? how much money was raised in 2013, :0) oh wise one!
    I have given you too much of my very valuable & precious time. You seriously never cared for nor care NOW for, the people who have been struck by this horrid disease.
    Will I get an honest response? Time will tell..
    Sharon Carroll
    Nova Scotia

  7. Thank you Jerry for all the years working the MDA. You shared your love for this organization with all the people being a part of it with you. It was like a family gathering together to share in the joy and happiness seeing the smiles on the childrens faces knowing that a very special someone cared about them so deeply by giving them hope to get well. That very special person was you, Jerry Lewis, for all those years. To think that you were personally involved in their lives watching some of them grow up with the disease and being there for them is absolutely remarkable!!!!! Nothing or no one can take the love that you shared with your KIDS away from you! The children will always remember and love you and that is all that is going to matter and it will stay in your heart and theirs.
    Miss your MDA but will never forget!!!! Wish you all the happiness in the world!!!

  8. Jerry should have been the one who stayed and those who paid so highly should have been the ones kicked off. The famous actor was the show and the money maker , not the others. We will MISS JERRY.

  9. I for one really miss Jerry Lewis! We have watched for years, mostly because of Jerry and “his kids”. If he wanted to retire from it, they should have sent him off in dignity, he did so much to further the cause! We love Jerry!!

  10. I think it’s a horrible thing that the MDA organization is giving Jerry the boot without even letting him say goodbye to all his kids and I’m sure most of the people that get out and hold the boot and do all of the fund raising are wondering what in the world happened to Jerry!! I hope his health is good. I’ve been looking for a story about this and this is the only thing I’ve found. Why can’t Jerry have his only telethon and do it on Labor Day and still do it for Jerry’s kids?? I know he’s older but I think he would still have a lot of support. I’ve always enjoyed his show and wondered what happened to him a few year ago (must have been taking steroids) but no matter how he felt, he always doinated his Labor Day Holiday to the MD Association and now they don’t care about him at all!!! I’ve always felt like I missed Labor Day if I missed his telethon because we were out of town or too busy and no one else wanted to watch it but I always wanted to see the last few minutes to see what his (tymp, tymp) total projected funds raised were and I missed Ed McMahon after he passed away that was a big helper to Jerry. I missed it the last couple of years, so I don’t even know who he had helping him but Jerry will be sorely mssed. And sorry to say but I think his kids are going to be the ones that miss out becuase there’s no way they can collect as much money in 6 hours that they did in 21 -and-a-half, even though I realize a lot of the money had already been collected and they just send a company spokes person to present the checks to Jerry on live TV and Jerry always tried to put them at ease and make them feel welcome.
    Jerry, your kids and fans thank you for donating 52 years to MDA, even if they don’t appreciate you. Keep up the good work and think about starting your own show and going around them if you can!
    Donna Creel

  11. I think it’s a personal attack on MDA’s part and that is an unconscionable act of injustice to Jerry Lewis for all that he has given of himself for this worthy cause. It was “Jerry’s Kids” that gave him the energy he put into the
    whole MDA Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Yes, that title is now over and what/who will be able to replace the irreplaceable, Jerry Lewis? There is NO match for him whatsoever!

    Jerry Lewis, we love you, respect you, and NO one person can replace you!! You gave them your all . . and I do mean your ALL!!

  12. Jerry did not get the respect from the MDA group that he should have gotten. Jerry has done more then anyone working for the MDA group, not just now and then , but year after year. Where is the heart that MDA has alway shown to the world? Was it fake? I hope Jerry knows that MDA was wrong and pity the children for their bad hearts. I hope Jerry knows that he will always have the respect of the people who gave and stayed with him all of these years. MDA can not take that from him. Whenever the talk of MDA comes up, Jerry will be remembered, They wil ALWAYS be Jerry’s kids, long after Jerry is gone..

  13. This made me so upset. Shame on them! Shame, shame, shame. Jerry Lewis is a great man, gave without profiting like Jonas Salk, and said he would work as long as he drew breath. They will not be happy with the results they get now that it is known how ungrateful they are. Not even a tribute, thank-you, or send-off. No matter what their reasons, this is NOT a classy thing to do. And no matter what else ever happens, Jerry Lewis is a class act. Bless you, Jerry, and may you have many more years of your own projects and happiness.

  14. I gave once many years ago and the notice came very late, I was not going to pay it till they called me. The money is not distributed very well at all. The people at the top are getting to much. Thanks for info.This organization is dead on arrival.

  15. The website is not owned by me, but I am one of the mods there.

    I’m glad to see someone who is not kin to and does not work for Jerry Lewis validate what his fans have known all along — Jerry Lewis receives no compensation, except for the joy of helping his kids, for his long hours of work for MDA. Many people think that all he did was to appear on stage every year, but he worked all year long for that organization. Some of us knew immediately that Mr. Lewis was not informed and was merely unceremoniously dumped. MDA was going to be magnanimous enough to allow him to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” one more time but decided against this when he said something the powers that be at MDA didn’t like. Strange, Jerry Lewis was good enough for all those years to rake in the money for MDA and suddenly he’s Persona non Grata. Go figure.

    Thank you for a very nice article.

  16. What Mda did to Jerry Lewis was wrong plain and simple.
    We know it, the kids know it and I think everyone knows it but the executives at Mda. As someone who grew up with jerry’s telethon, stayed up all night with him, held backyard carnivals for him, I find this whole thing unbelievable.

  17. What a scoop! Thanks so much for this story Roger. I wondered what in the name of God could have happened that MDA would get rid of Jerry in such an unceremonious way. What a shame! He did everything and more for the MDA for almost 50 years.

  18. Roger, you need to send out this story to the news outlets. Jerry has not only been disrepected by MDA, but media outlets that have only briefly touched upon the story. After devoted almost 60 years to the organization, to be summarily dismissed with barely a thank you is the complete opposite of what charity means. Your information about how MDA distrbutes monies (to those in need, employees, etc) is a travesty. With Labor Day upon us, there is no better time than now to get attention for this injustice. I can’t believe more people are not speaking up or are outraged. Where are the families who were helped over the years due to Jerry’s efforts? Is no one grateful?

  19. As a 55 year old unemployed woman, I can relate! Seriously though, I hope the truth will eventually come out … you make it sound like something shady is going on … the salary filings seem high but then so are the funds they have doled out although I wish the figures were reversed. I watched (and contributed) the telethon for many years and tried to stay up with Jerry, more often than not falling asleep on the couch! I think he gave the association a touch of credibility. Obviously, it was only a matter of time before Jerry could no longer host the telethon but for it to end so abruptly and not just the hosting but also his association with MDA, well, I’m afraid the kids will be the ones to suffer the consequences … such a poor PR move! They’ve opened the door to scrutiny – hope they’re ready for it.

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