I don’t care WHO you are or
WHERE you come from, you grew up watching, laughing and loving Jerry
Lewis. This was more than just an interview for me, readers, as
Jerry Lewis is truly a hero. He’s not just a hero through my eyes,
but for millions across the world. He is one of the few people who
will actually leave this planet a better place than when he came!
The 2006 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon was another success story!
The twenty-one-and-a-half hour-long telethon originated from the
South Coast Hotel in Las Vegas September 3rd and 4th over the Labor
Day weekend. The broadcast’s primary aim is to raise funds for MDA’S
programs of research and services for children and adults with any
of more than 40 neuromuscular diseases. MDA has on its team
cutting-edge scientists working on research as well as its life
enhancing programs such as national and local network clinics,
support groups and summer camps.
Lewis says, “The telethon
is a tradition; a premier fund-raising event, a chance to inform and
educate, to laugh and cry, and to have a good time.” Telethon anchor
Ed McMahon returned for his 39th year and was, as usual, flawless
and outstanding! Equally fantastic were co-hosts Jann Carl of
“Entertainment Weekly,” comedians Norm Crosby and Bob Zany, TV host
Tom Bergeron and country singer Billy Gilman. Jerry Lewis (an angel
of a man) was there in all his glory, in spite of his own health
problems such as his recent heart attack, severe back pain, and lung
disease, which Lewis said only deepened his commitment to help “HIS
KIDS.” Some of the entertainment included: Larry King, Tony Orlando,
Celine Dion, Paul Anka, the Goo Goo Dolls, Lee Greenwood, the Dave
Matthews Band, Joshua Bell, Jo Dee Messina, Daddy Yankee, Cheap
Trick, Rita Rudner, Neil Patrick Harris, Ray Romano, William
Shatner, Donald Trump, Sean Hayes, Lance Burton, Clint Holmes, Louis
Anderson, George Wallace, Julia Roberts, Maureen McGovern, George
Clinton, the Village People, and the casts of “Phantom of the
Opera,” “Shout,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “The
Color Purple” and “The Wedding Singer.” This year’s show, due to all
the efforts of hundreds of people behind the scenes, was emotional,
entertaining and, simply put, SUPERB!
A few days before the
telethon, we (the press) were given the stunning opportunity to ask
Jerry Lewis many questions which he answered openly and candidly.
Sitting across from Mr. Lewis at this press conference, you could
actually feel the aura of goodness all around him. You could see his
exposed heart as he spoke with such love, concern, respect and care
for “HIS KIDS!” Jerry Lewis is articulate, kind, generous, worldly,
brilliant, humble, honest, creative, oh, and need I say A VERY FUNNY
man! He has a heart of gold and is concerned for ALL humanity! Above
all, it was very clear that his passion and determination to cure
Muscular Dystrophy for “HIS KIDS” was present at all times. Here’s
how just some of it went down…
Reporter: How do you feel
about the Telethon being back in Vegas?
JL: I’ve worked very
hard on that for the last 9 years. I love it here!
Have you looked at who will take your place one day?
I don’t think about that. That is negative! I’m sure that after
another 21 years and I have left the scene, they will find someone.
Let’s hope that we’ve built a kind of a brand on the mind’s eye of
America that will lead them to insist on someone or something that
possibly cares as much.
Reporter: Jerry, was there any
concern with your health issues that you might not be able to do the
JL: Yes, we were very concerned, as I have been on
a very bad road trip for more than four years. I got through with
Pulmonary Fibrosis that killed something else. When someone gets
really sick, it begets sick, and that was happening to me. My lungs
took about four years to come back. Finally, now I don’t need
oxygen. Thank G-d!
Reporter: You have been doing this
successfully for so many years. What are some challenges you have to
overcome every year?
JL: There are no specifics. I am
dealing with (from the get-go) a bunch of stars who are in
wheelchairs. My kids are the stars of this program. I am not going
to get a heck of a lot of viewers by getting Mel Gibson as one of
the stars. The viewers will tune in because they have been with me
all the time. It’s 2 percent that puts the 60 million up on that
board. Some people have been with me for over 58 years and now it is
their children and their children’s children. There is something
wonderful about a family that is together on something. Sometimes
kids pick up some pretty good habits from their parents!
Reporter: How does your daughter feel about all this?
JL: She’s very quiet about what she learns, but she watches
in amazement, with great concentration. She sees everything, at 14
years old. She asks questions about how things affect some of my
kids and their parents. She is very sharp.
mentioned Mel Gibson. Would you have him on your show?
NO! ARE YOU NUTS? I want to tell the press, so they know, that I am
doing a film with Mel Gibson and his father. I am going to direct it
and call it skinheads. We are going to open in Haifa and then go on
to Berlin. I don’t think it will be ready for a year or so.
Reporter: -LAUGHTER, and more LAUGHTER!- Is it getting more
difficult to put the Telethon together?
JL: It is not unlike
the NFL. When you got a great quarterback, you’re gonna win the
Super Bowl. Kids who we help are the centerpiece, and the people
know that. A woman comes to me and says, ‘When my little boy was
diagnosed with MD, the first thing that flashed into my head was, I
have to call Jerry.’ The audience hears your heart and they are
responding. I have the best people and it is tough to keep them year
after year. I do have the same 600 as I did the past few years, and
I am very lucky. Performers, I was LUCKY to do what I did in 1974.
The roster of stars we got was like nothing you have ever seen. It
was amazing, from opening with Benny to Burns to Sammy Davis and
Wayne Newton and on and on. It is asking a lot from the performers
to do the Telethon. They have to fly in and it becomes a four- day
gig for them. It is hard for them to do and I understand and
appreciate that! The real stars of this show are the kids.
Robin Roth: Why and how did you get started with the
JL: I have never answered that question to this
day, and I never will! There is no reason to. It was personal,
private and very dramatic in my life and that’s all I can tell you
that motivated me to get to where I am now with this cause for my
kids. I don’t think it’s as important why, as it is that I am doing
it! What’s the difference? It is getting done. What is getting done
now with the money we have made is extraordinary. They are telling
me now that I could see a cure in my lifetime. I remind them,
fellas, I am 80 years old, you understand it is getting pretty
close? When we started, it was so out of reach. When it struck a
child in 1970, they would only live for 18-20 months. A child
diagnosed today will live 20 years. What we have done with research
has put them in a position of HOPE! If that’s all I did with $2
billion, we did good work. They never had that!
What is Jerry Lewis like off the telethon?
JL: I have a
menu. If you wanted to know about me, the man, you’d look at the
menu and it would tell you: Generous, kind, selfish, boisterous,
caustic, loud, at times ill-mannered, cares about human beings,
loves humanity, wants to make it better for everyone he knows and
works at that 24/7. If you take that menu and you put it in your
house, it matches. We are all the same. I really believe I have
developed into a good man. The once in a while outbursts of
temperament and aggravation and ‘why wasn’t that right’ is all part
of perfection. I do have a problem with an incompetent. He not only
screws you up, but he has the job of a competent that’s out of work.
Incompetence is my biggest battle. Sometimes I just give them an
oops and take the time with them and let them know that I understand
them. Then they can give you the best of themselves.
Reporter: What do you remember most about the day Sinatra
brought you back together with Dean?
JL: I had cotton mouth,
my legs were shaking and it was one of the most magical moments in
my life. Remember, Dean and I broke up in 56 and we hadn’t spoken
for 20 years. The STUPIDITY of that I am not able to define. There
was so much under and behind the appearance. Dean and I would never
ever have talked again if Frank didn’t do that. It took a lot of
guts on Frank’s part. It was very courageous. It was doubly
courageous of my partner to bounce out on that stage. I asked
myself, could I have done that? It was a very meaningful time and we
talked from that point on till the schmagegy died. He should have
taken care of himself and so should have Frank and Sammy. I take 25
pills a day in one gulp with soda. I am scared not to take those
Reporter: What was the last conversation you had with
Dean and what did you talk about?
JL: It was three weeks
before he died. It was personal and beautiful.
you going ahead with your Broadway show?
JL: We open on
Broadway on March 15, 2008 with the “Nutty Professor Musical” and
“Dean and Me, the Musical” at the same time [which Jerry wrote].
Reporter: Is all this work taking a toll on you?
I am healthier when I am active and my energy level is high. Dean
used to say to me, ‘You’re gonna be the only partner who killed his
partner without hurting him!’ There’s nothing like work that you do
well and you love. I find when you are productive and love what you
do, it’s gonna keep you young. If you’re going to retire at 50 like
so many people do, you cut the energy system off. Retire for what,
are you nuts? I might be able to make a little kid laugh out there…
give me a shot at it! Are we done? I’ll talk all day!
one was mesmerized and could have listened to Jerry Lewis speak all
day! What a wonderful and memorable experience it was to have been
given the gift to sit with this very special, incredible human
If you were not able to give your contribution to
MDA, PLEASE…PLEASE DO IT NOW! It is NEVER TOO LATE TO DO THE RIGHT
MDA is a voluntary health agency working to defeat
more than 40 neuromuscular diseases through programs of worldwide
research, comprehensive services and far-reaching professional and
public health education. The Association’s programs are funded
almost ENTIRELY by individual private contributors. SO GIVE NOW!
Don’t wait, AND if you gave… GIVE AGAIN! Just go to www.mdausa.org
and help others… Help Jerry and “HIS KIDS.” It will feel good, I