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American Treasure and King of Humanity, Jerry Lewis, Once Again Delivers for His Kids through the 41st Annual MDA Telethon

Jerry Lewis
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by Robin Roth, “The Blonde” from “The Blonde and the Maven”

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!

Reporter: Have you looked at who will take your place one day?

JL: No, 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 Telethon?

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.

Reporter: You mentioned Mel Gibson. Would you have him on your show?

JL: 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 Telethon?

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!

Reporter: 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 pills!

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.

Reporter: Are 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?

JL: 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!

I, for 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 being!

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 THING!

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 promise!

Photos by Robin Roth

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