Jerry Lewis went down in history not only as a legendary comedian, but a hero to individuals around the world combating muscular dystrophy and other diseases.
Lewis founded his annual Labor Day spectacular, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon back in 1966, and was dedicated to the endeavor for 44 years. Throughout that time, the telethons raked in billions of dollars which aided in research for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The telethons grew wildly popular among many A-list celebrities and performers and were broadcast on hundreds of diverse TV programs across the nation.
Each year, Lewis would ‘dominate the show, delivering a blend of showbiz schmaltz, and true-life, touching stories of people who had muscular dystrophy and their families,’ a report by The Oregonian said of his hit performances.
Dean Martin, (L) Frank Sinatra (R) and Jerry Lewis perform on stage during the eleventh annual Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy research in Las Vegas, Nevada in September 1976
Jerry Lewis gives a thumbs up to his band at the end of the 44th annual Labor Day Telethon at the South Point Hotel & Casino September 7, 2009
Jerry Lewis (L) accepts a check from comedian/actor George Wallace after he performed during the 44th annual Labor Day Telethon
Comedian and host Jerry Lewis at the 39th Annual Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon held at the Beverly Hills Hilton
‘Whether you liked it or cringed, it was live television at its most live, with Lewis getting more cranky and teary as the hours rolled by, pleading with viewers to make the numbers on the tote board increase.’
While the amusing performances received backlash for some of its outlandish scenes, viewers deemed it to be a one-of-a-kind show as the viewership continued to soar.
The MDA Telethon said Lewis did not profit in any way from the performances, adding that he provided ‘tireless year-round work for MDA and is the organization’s ‘number-one volunteer’ and star.
Other celebs who co-hosted and performed with Lewis included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joan Crawford, John Lennon and Yoko Ono,’ to name a few.
Dean Martin (L) and Jerry Lewis (R) are shown at the Muscular Dystrophy telethon November 18, 1954 in Los Angeles
Co-hosts Alison Sweeney and Nancy O’Dell and entertainer Jerry Lewis talk during the 44th annual Labor Day Telethon September 6, 2009
Jerry Lewis and singer Celine Dion conversate during the 41st Annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon at the South Coast Hotel & Casino
The stars who appeared on the show did not receive pay, and focused their efforts solely on pleading with viewers to donate using their charm, charisma and talent.
In 1977, Lewis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the telethon. He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2009.
By 2010, the comedian was controversially let go as the host and the MDA put a halt to the annual spectacular all together in 2014.
The comedian, 91, died Sunday morning inside his Las Vegas residence due to natural causes.
Jerry Lewis poses during a photocall for the film “Max Rose” at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France May 23, 2013
Entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles September 2, 1990
Jerry Lewis is pictured from a ‘Max Rose’ film photocall in Los Angeles August 24, 2016
Lewis starred in several hit movies including Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and The Nutty Professor.
He had a long, illustrious career, starring in 50 movies including My Friend Irma, The Bellboy, and Cinderfella, as well as long running TV shows and even a stint on Broadway in the musical Damn Yankees.
His performances earned him not one, but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for TV and one for film, and a lifetime achievement award in 2009 by the Academy of of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
He is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick and their adopted daughter.