Thursday, May 23, 2024

Jerry Lewis Raised Billions for MDA Over 50 Years And They Treated Him Like Dirt as a Reward


This morning as Jerry Lewis‘s death is catching up to the news there are many stories about his philanthropy and devotion to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. With his Labor Day telethons and “Jerry’s Kids” programs, Lewis spent 50 years raising billions for the organization. He put them on the map internationally.

And then in 2010 they kicked him to the curb. Jerry was ousted, unceremoniously. His history with the group was erased from their materials and website. The Labor Day telethon became a pre-taped two hour special. MDA receipts went into a severe decline. The group moved from Phoenix to Chicago to accommodate a new CEO. Volunteers around the country complained of closed chapters. People who’d devoted decades to Lewis and MDA said they were abandoned.

Lewis was devastated but never commented publicly on what happened. MDA, seeing the self destruction they’d caused, tried to smooth things over a couple of years later, but it was too late. The damage was done. Then they were usurped by the ALS Association, which had their summer of Ice Bucket Challenge. MDA suffered, which was sad only for the kids involved, but not for the executives who’d killed their golden goose.

According to its most recent filing form 990, MDA has seen “gifts, grants and membership fees” from the public drop by $36 million since 2011. Still, their CEO makes around $600,000 a year, and their salaries for execs exceeds $2 million a year. Last year, among their expenses: $3 million for printing. And that’s in the age of digital and online.

Yesterday it took MDA three hours from the time Lewis’s death was announced to sent out a Tweet of condolence. (First they re-tweeted Lewis’s successor host for those terrible specials, Tom Bergeron.) It took them that long to put something on their website, where for years Lewis has been persona non grata. Watch them do what they can to cash in on his legacy. It’s pathetic.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
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.

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