Jerry Lewis Out As Host, Chairman

August 4, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

Less than three months after announcing that this year would be his last as host of the annual Labor Day telethon, Jerry Lewis will not making an appearance and is leaving his post as national chairman.

The legendary comedian cancelled shows in a recent tour and has had health issues over the past several years.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) issued an 88-word press release, titled “Jerry Lewis Completes Run as MDA National Chairman,” to announce that he would not be appearing in the telethon.

“Jerry Lewis is a world-class humanitarian and we’re forever grateful to him for his more than half century of generous service to MDA. We will not be replacing him as MDA national chairman, and he will not be appearing on the telethon,” MDA Chairman of the Board of Directors, R. Rodney Howell said in the statement.

The MDA announced this past May that the 85-year-old Lewis would be retiring as host of the annual telethon but would make one final appearance this year to perform his signature song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and remain as the national chairman. He first hosted the telethon in 1966 with his comedic sidekick and rat pack member Dean Martin.

What changed between May and August remains unclear. A message left at MDA’s Tucson, Ariz.-based headquarters was not immediately returned. Whether it has anything to do with Lewis’ peculiar appearance at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour last week is unclear. According to several published reports, Lewis was asked about his involvement with the telethon and replied, “It’s none of your business,” while also railing against reality television.

The annual telethon is by far MDA’s biggest fundraiser, generating approximately $60 million, about a third of the organization’s almost $180 million in annual revenue.

The telethon has seen new hosts join Lewis over the years and this year will feature four co-hosts on Sept. 4: Nancy O’Dell, Jan Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nigel Lythgoe. There also have been changes over the years, with the addition of online auctions and this year’s new primetime, six-hour format, down from the 21 1/2-hour marathon of previous years.

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