Home Celebrity Exclusive: Without Jerry Lewis, MDA Couldn’t Collect 50% of Last Year’s Pledges

Exclusive: Jerry Lewis vs. the Muscular Dystrophy Association: after 50 plus years, MDA tossed Lewis out last year and replaced him as chairman of the charity and host of his famous Labor Day telethon. The 2011 telethon, shrunk to six hours from 21, was ghastly. When it was over MDA trumpeted that they’d made $61 million– up 4 percent from the prior year when Lewis was at the helm. MDA boasted it did better without Jerry.


Alas, it wasn’t true. MDA has just posted its 2011 federal tax form 990 on its website and this tells a much different story. MDA was only able to collect $31 million of that much publicized amount. Without Jerry Lewis to cajole or persuade or inveigle, exactly half the amount came in that was promised by the public. Whether people simply reneged, or never actually pledged that amount at all, remains to be seen.

MDA will argue this happens every year: the tote board total is never what actually comes in. But in 2010, MDA crowed about $58 million at the end of the telethon with Jerry; $48 million came in. In 2009, the first telethon after the recession, the shortfall was about $15 million–$60 million announced, $45 million arrived.

For last year, MDA lists gross receipts from the first non Jerry Lewis telethon at $30,683,816. The charitable contribution portion was 18,059,876 . This left a gross income of $12,623,940.

A 50% shortfall is unprecedented. Because of it, the Form 990 shows a running $30 million loss or more in all categories stated on the MDA return from the beginning of 2011 to the end. Net assets and fund balances seem severely depleted.

And public support dropped overall, not just with the Telethon. In 2010, MDA claimed it received over $174 million in gifts and grants (including the telethon). In 2011, there was a big drop: the number was only $157 million.

Even more disturbing: revenue less expenses left MDA in the red for 2011 at $19 million.

MDA’s now deposed CEO, the man who got rid of Lewis, Gerald C. Weinberg, still pulled down his nearly $400K a year salary in 2011, which he’d been making fo years. The top staff at MDA all make decent six figure salaries as well. Weinberg and most of that staff are no longer working at MDA.

To be fair: MDA divides up the millions that do come in to dozens of worthy hospitals, universities, research programs, and facilities. The halved $61 million is still a sizeable chunk for these donation-starved groups. However: without the bad publicity and the controversy around Jerry Lewis, MDA might have been able to collect a higher percentage of pledges which would have benefited these groups even more.

Something happened at MDA in 2011  that’s never quite been explained. They committed a kind of hari-kari, taking an established brand and flushing it down the toilet. On Sunday night, the so-called remnants of the annual telethon are down to three hours. Almost everything is pre-taped except for local cut ins. The acts have no relationship to the history of the MDA.

Because it’s taped, there will be no drama to see if they can top last year. Of course, last year doesn’t really exist since the actually collected $31 million is far below the amounts from preceding years.

I doubt Jerry Lewis is amused or feeling vindicated. He worked like a dog for five decades for his “kids” and established an image for this charity among so many dozens of others soliticing funds for terrible diseases.

An email to the pr director of MDA has gone unanswered so far. If she writes back. I will gladly add the responses to our questions.

All the numbers for this article came directly from www.mda.org/aboutus

also http://mda.org/sites/default/files/TaxForm990_2011.pdf


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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
150 replies to this post
  1. Many of the readers really miss the point. Many charities are frauds!!!! There are many cures for the diseases that plague our country and it’s been available for decades. The only reason why people don’t see is because don’t know how to think independently. Pharmaceuticals prevents these cures from the public by controlling the media through TV, Internet (although the truth can be found there too), FDA, AMA etc., after all you can’t make money from healthy people. It pays to keep everyone sick… the monies just keep rolling in, through hospitals, drugs, MDs (through drug kickbacks), cost for test results, chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries etc.

  2. Let the truth be known. There are now cures for many horrible afflictions that affect many of us. From MDA, to Cancer, Diabetes (which I have). But think if they revealed these cures many people would lose a great deal of money. Starting with the insurance companies, then the pharmaceutical companies. Many people and corporations would lose money or lose their jobs. Then there would be lawsuits. Now we can’t have that happen, can we???????

  3. A doctor sent Jerry the cure for MS. It’s cheep and non-patentable. Jerry was so excited but when he went to the medical board they fired him and sent him on a cruise. He was threatened with a law suit if he said anything.

    Greed and corrution in the AMA and the ACA too. Rockefeller started the AMA and the ACA and formed the FDA for goons as enforcers. He also gave money to the large medical schools to teach the “Rockefeller” medical training.

    This was in 1913, the same year of the Federal Reserve (a cabal of criminal private bankers) and the illegal IRS. Look it up.

    Susan Koman race for the “cure” The salaries and perks are outrageous. Less than 19% actually goes to finding a cure.

    The medical industrial complex.

  4. Jerry Lewis found a way to prevent and/or cure Muscular Distrophy, he was fired because that cure threatened the status quo. Also, the doctor who originally found the causes is a nutritional focused doctor, and those kind are viewed as quacks by the established medical industry. Lewis is awesome for his decades of service.

  5. Here it is, middle of November and MDA has yet to release the amount of the Pledges for their 3 hour broadcast Labor Day Weekend. What in the heck are they hiding?

  6. I know hands on that my daughter and I helped our local area for two years raise money for MDA and to send children like my daughter to camp that cost
    $800.00 for one child. When we got our packet for this year we could not believe that they would not be using any locals. As far as helping people , the only help we got was for her to go to camp and the physical for camp. When you go to get wheelchairs and braces your medical ins pays most of the cost and MDA pays what is left over. When asked in 2011 why Jerry wasn’t there we could never get a out right answer. All we heard was he was stepping down. It just didn’t seem right.Jerry had a heart for the children. We didn’t watch in 2012 and could not get how much they raised. We will not be giving anymore money to MDA

  7. I worked with Jerry Lewis for 25 years delivering the mail on each telethon. No one ever worked hardethan Jerry. True, in those early years Lewis was up the entire 21 hours. Slowly it became necessary to reduce the hours of his actual appearance. The fact that Lewis is no longder there is bad enough but the shorttened hours makes it appear they do not want contributions. Also what is no publized is the manner in which they have treated some employees. On a Friday afternoon in Roanoke, Va. a 22-year faithful employee was told to not show up in Monday. Others have likewise been fired so that the healthy salaries can continue. What is involved here is the future of the MD victims, not employees or salaries or totals.

  8. I have never donated to MDA due to their policy of their endorsement, and potential embryonic stem cell research (which as a devout Catholic I am against). However, I always watched the telethon because it was the only time I could watch the big Las Vegas entertainers that never travel or give performances in my area. For that reason alone, they should go back to the original format.

  9. I too watched Jerry’s MDA Telethons since a kid in the 1960’s. Sure they had hokey acts and “old time” singers & actors; BUT, THEY ALL HAD LOVE IN THEIR HEARTS! They offered and meant their best. I was very proud when I was first able to give $100 after I started to work full time.

    Another American tradition now ruined by the modernistic JERKS. When will people leave this nation and its values ALONE. The best of us give the most of us when left to our own spirits of charity, patriotism, love of God & fellow man.

    Look at the would-be pro golfer house sitting OUR White House. He goes to his various scheduled TV guest spots while the Mid East burns and our fellow citizens die. No matter with doing his job; meeting with those boring guys at the UN might harm his election plans. Another person who thinks “THE SUCKERS” will just sit still, shut up and keep paying the bills.


  11. I spent over 35 years working on the Canadian form of the Jerry Lewis Telethon….along with thousands of other dedicated, selfless individuals. Our summers were geared towards preparing for the Telethon, raising awareness of MD, attending various fund raisers, publiclly thanking our Firefighters and others….all the efforts culminated in the final tote, whether higher than the previous year or not…we all knew we had done our best. To have Jerry and others tossed out by an uncaring beaurocrasy (sp?) (hugely over paid, I might add) was, at least, a huge insult. At most, it was a betrayal of the spirit of volunteerism that has built our two countries. My suspiscions of a padded final tote on the 2011 Telethon has been proven…less than 50% of telethon pledges actually collected…in spite of huge salaries to the higher ups…shame on MDA!!!! Unfortunately the clients and their families, and the dedicated doctors fighting MD are the ones to suffer. Let’s all show our disgust by giving directly to our local chapters of MD and MDAC….the true heroes of the case against neuromuscular disorders! Many chapters then can give research funds to local doctors and services benefitting those fighting MD. After 35 years as regular volunteer, then as co-chairman and chairman of the Ottawa Telethon, I am committed to the over all cause against neuromuscular diseases…but no longer through huge conglomerates led by uncaring and out of touch people bringing in obscene salaries! I will also go out and personally buy as many Jerry Lewis DVD’s as I can find!!! Thank you Jerry for your years of leadership….and for taking not even a dime for your efforts…and a humongous thank you to all the U.S. and Canadian volunteers whether you donated an hour and a dollar or much more….we are all part of the solution….let’s make muscles work!!!! May the Lord continue to bless you!

  12. I have watched the Jerry Lewis telethon for over 40 years (since I was a little girl). My mom loved to watch it so I sat next to her never realizing when I became an adult I would be diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. I have been very lucky that it is remission but each year while watching the show I realize that could be me sitting in the wheel chair and I am so grateful to have my health. While I am grateful each day watching the show always brought back cherished memories of my Mom and all the funny stuff Jerry has done on the shows. Remember his dog at the end of the show one year? Remember “his song” at the end of the show? I’m so disappointed with the show that when I tried to find it I couldn’t . Year after year it was on the front cover of Parade magazine but there was no mention of it this year or last year. It is horrible that something a man has worked so hard for has now been downsized to 3 hours. Each year it is going to get worse and the ones who are going to suffer are the kids as well as their families.

  13. I am from the south and am fully aware of Jerry’s comment about the south from an airplane when I was a child. I watched every Jerry Lewis Telethon that I could through my life. Obviously people do not remember where they are from so they got rid of the guy that started the telethon with no regard to phasing him out due to his age and retiring or what. They obviously did NOT critically think this choice. They must have been the same ones that put our nation in this situation with the choice for the person running OUR country. The people and families with MD are the ones that I whole heartedly feel sorry for because they are the ones that are going to miss out on things. This is just another example of letting the devil run rampant.


  15. Don’t be so blind to know when you got a good thing. When you got a good thing, don’t screw it up. History says all. Sounds like to me that a charity turned to greed!

  16. And how much of the MD money actually goes towards research for a cure is to be seen. In the case of the Susan B. Komen foundation’s ‘Race for the Cure’ ,the organization that promotes breast cancer research and awareness, was recently found that they had donated 400,000 to Planned Parenthood, whos practices of abortion actually have shown a high risks of cancer. I am becoming so cynical with all these groups.

  17. The way they treated Jerry is disrespectful. The quality of the telethon has gone downhill since the ouster of Jerry. I hope Jerry is back next year.

  18. Lots of people know what really happened. Jerry Lewis was presented with evidence that MDA “research” is a fraud, there is no cure except for the one Dr Joel Wallach found, through diet. I think he even won a medical award for it.

    He sent the test results to Jerry Lewis. Jerry, being a sincere human being, genuinely interested in MDA victims, presented it to his charity. I think it was obvious, by their reaction, to everyone, that they were not interested in any real cure.

    Most of these large charities, Koman included, are giant frauds with people feeding off the sickness of others. Demented megabucks.

  19. I’m 60, and I remember watching the Jerry and the telethon when I was a kid and we had 3 channels. At the time, being a child, I thought MD would be like polio, and they’d find a cure, although even then, the way it was described, I knew it was going to be a lot more complicated.

    Jerry always looked a little drunk, but we know now (from the wonders of the Internet) he was just a little buzzed from pain killers like Percodan, from a bad back injury he had in 1965 as well as exhaustion doing the telethon. He also had his first heart attack in 1960. MD is a devastating disease and even with all the money that has gone into research, thanks in big part to Jerry, still no cure, pretty far from one, but some advances in treatment though.
    Probably not a drop in half, but I think one problem they face is that TV watching is dropping off at en exponential rate. Fewer and fewer people are turning the TV on, just to see what’s on, myself included. I watch most TV on the Internet.

    I think MD lost out losing Jerry though as many people probably tuned in, just to see that he was still alive and kicking. He’s a medical miracle himself, with all the health issues he’s been through.

    As a small child, I was crazy about Jerry Lewis. It thought he was so funny. By the time I was 12, I thought he was ridiculous, and could hardly figure out why I laughed at him in the first place. The telethon was unwatchable, especially in my teenage years. But now, I love him again.

  20. Anyone remember the 2007 comment by Lewis on the telethon that was offensive to gays?
    Think that might have had something to do with his “retirement”?
    Maybe unrelenting pressure to have him removed to punish him for the comment may be the reason he was removed.
    Just a thought…

  21. Because of Jerry Lewis, I have given every year…..UNTIL last year. I firmly support children causes, so now St. Jude’s get my (quite sizable) contribution.

  22. I was in Las Vegas a few years back over Labor Day and had waundered into the South Point Casino on a Sunday evening to check it out. The event was being held there that year and I saw Mr. Lewis visiting with some of the folks in the casino. He looked tired and over weight, but did seem to enjoy working the crowd. I really never cared for his comedy, but I never doubted that his heart was in the right place working this charity. He has helped thousands of MD victems, and for the MDA to cut him loose, seemed a bit stupid.

  23. If you saw Jerry last year on the show, you would know it was retirement time.
    If they raised half as much money in a 2/7ths of the time then that’s pretty good. Many people are helped by the MDA, however I don’t they handled this necessary transition well. Many folks are hurting pretty badly in this great nation and just can’t give what they used to do.

  24. I would gladly give to the MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) but not the MDA (Multiple Dumbass Association). Unfortunately after last year I can’t tell the difference so I just give to ST Judes Hospital.

  25. AMAZING,,Simply AMAZING. I contribute $$$ at work (thru CFC), and I’m simply stymied when I read that so many charities have 50,60, or 70% admin costs. That means every dollar I contribute, 70 Cents goes into somebodies pocket instead of helping those less fortunate. I have had it, I will no longer contribute to these so called CHARITIES, who line their pockets. 70% REALLY?

  26. Weinberg’s ego simply got in the way of the stewardship of the MDA as happens with so many CEOs. Look for this year’s numbers to halve last year’s.

  27. It is a shame that today’s society no longer knows the meaning of “loyalty” or “appreciation” or “respect.” At least MDA doesn’t. If they had, they would not have treated Jerry the way they did. It is obvious that MDA saw $$$ signs and their priorities shifted to that of a worldly selfishness of money over Jerry’s Kids. Shame on you jerks! I hope that the MD movement starts a new and different organization to truly help Jerry’s Kids.

  28. Why in the world there needs to be a hierarchy with executives making well over 100k EACH, and a president that makes 400k is simply abominable. That doesn’t also include lesser employees. It would be great to see a line item sheet including values of perks received by each executive employee; and you know I’m not talking about healthcare benefits.ps…Salvation army President with all it’s wonderful work makes less than 20k a year compared to the million dollar salary of the president of the Red Cross.

  29. too bad. Could be the businesses pledging got their tax bill for obamacare first. When taxes and regulations go up something has to give. Or in this case not give. Too bad for the kids. I can’t stand Jerry Lewis in the movies but he is a great person for his work on MD.

  30. I had been watching the telethon almost every year since I was a boy in the 1960’s. When I heard what they did to Jerry I vowed to never watch or support them again. One of the most important things that we have lost in the 21st century (beginning in late 20th) is any sense of loyalty. Corporations are the biggest culprits, but it has spilled over into the cliche “it’s just business man, you understand.” For those of you that never knew this world where loyalty and a handshake meant everything, I feel quite sorry for you.

  31. I found it unconscionable the way the MDA treated Jerry last year, after he had dedicated his life to helping this organization and I would always watch some of the telethon. After the way they treated Jerry, not even letting him give a concluding speech last year, was just atrocious, and I’m not surprised their contributions have fallen 70%. You cant just use people up and throw them away and think the public doesn’t notice it. The people that did this are calloused, incompassionate, and have no sense of decency or morals. The CEO is not longer working at the helm; I wonder why??? Well you have made your bed and you will have to sleep in it, because I doubt any other celebrity is going to give his life to YOUR organization!!!!

  32. Mention the name ‘Jerry Lewis’ in almost any rehabilitation counseling graduate class and you will knock over a hornet’s nest of hate and disdain for someone the disabled view as ‘insensitive’ and ‘patronizing’ for Jerry’s politically incorrect gaffes over the years. The lack of forgiveness and intolerance for Jerry, by those who demand tolerance from others, is ironically comical.

    MDA, where no good deeds go unpunished and executives are promoted to their highest levels of incompetence.

  33. I worked for Jerry for 20 telethons before they were moved to Vegas and I still see him once in a while here in L.A. Jerry put his heart & soul into MDA and it was an honor to serve him an to see behind the scenes as to how much work he put into getting the acts and production in motion before it went on the air. MDA & their board of directors remind me of the Obama Adminstration. That is why for the 2nd year in a row MDA Telethon has “Failed!”

  34. My family lives just down the street from MDA headquarters. My son and I have over the years delivered bagels and snack trays to them. A more bunch of arrogant, rude, and full of overinflated sense of self-importance bunch of jerks would be hard to match.

  35. I watched the 2012 telethon tonight and was heart broken to see an annual Labor Day event destroyed. What a shame! MDA has destroyed their signature fund raiser. They are now seen by the Pubic as a
    user with no heart. They used Jerry Lewis for over 50
    years and then discarded him like an old shoe. For that, they will never get another dime from me. I will still support Jerry’s Kids, but through different Charities. Shame on MDA.

  36. MDA for the last 50 years has made a few non-disabled men FILTHY RICH while leaving little kids on Social Security & SSI waiting in-line at Food Banks & thrift stores….

  37. I quite giving to MDA, when I found out how stupid the salaries for the “CEO” are. It is a CHARITY. Most of the money should go to research etc, not for outrageous salaries, offices, perks etc.

  38. For two years now I have felt like I have lost my best friend when I watch the telethon because Jerry Lewis wasn’t there.I couldn’t figure out what was going on and now I know. This country is gone we Americans had one thing to. Believe in and a real person to share his believes he showed this inner most emotions to us all. And now that is gone because of some slimy people that but money above love to help others that need it. Its those some slimy people that is reigning this country. We Americans had something beautiful to hold on to. But because of beucrate bull they even had to take that away from us a nd a loving man that gave everything to a cause he believed in all of his life. Shame on them who would take away this from precious child for there own benefits. I am so upset about this. Jerry gave fifty years to this and was thrown out like an old shoe. Now there really isn’t anything to believe in anymore. I will never donate to anything again. Why should we to make the fat cats fattier. No way. I love you Jerry Lewis and I always will. You tried so hard. To help.

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