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May 6, 2016

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Mystery surrounds Jerry Lewis’ absence from Sunday’s MDA Telethon


Justin M. Bowen

Jerry Lewis listens as he is presented with the Nevada Broadcasters Association Lifetime Achievement Award at Red Rock Resort on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011.

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Jerry Lewis: Nevada Broadcasters Association Lifetime Achievement Award

Jerry Lewis listens as he is presented with the Nevada Broadcasters Association Lifetime Achievement Award at Red Rock Resort on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Jerry Lewis' Lifetime Achievement Award

Jerry Lewis receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nevada Broadcasters Association at Red Rock Resort on Aug. 20, 2011. Launch slideshow »

2010 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

The 2010 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon at South Point. Ace Young, Nigel Lythgoe and David Archuleta are pictured here. Launch slideshow »

Few TV traditions in America are as popular as the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon, but this year’s is still shrouded in mystery as to what happened between entertainment legend and longtime host Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Not one mention of his name in the two latest MDA press releases about the telethon. That’s not only downright rude and disgraceful, but also a tragedy.

This year’s show, broadcast live again from South Point on Sunday, has been cut to 6 hours from the long-standing 21-hour marathon. MDA says the new look will be more fast-paced and hopefully double donations that hit nearly $60 million last year in a flagging economy.

MDA also says the compressed show is attracting new superstar entertainers: Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Martina McBride, Steven Tyler, Jon Secada, Randy Jackson and Richie Sambora are scheduled to make appearances during the telethon. Nigel Lythgoe, Nancy O’Dell, Jann Carl and Alison Sweeney are this year’s hosts.

It won’t be the same without Jerry at the helm. His dedication and devotion to MDA and Jerry’s Kids have raised more than $2 billion, making him the solo star with the biggest gift to charity. Jerry’s legacy will last forever even in his absence.

Broadcast over Labor Day weekend in 1966 by just one TV station in New York City, the first event raised more than $1 million in pledges. This Sunday, more than 40 years later, the show will be broadcast by more than 150 MDA “Love Network” stations and assisted by approximately 250,000 volunteers across the country. Nearly 40 million people are expected to watch.

In 1998, it made history as the first telethon seen around the world via Internet simulcast. It’s momentum came from Jerry revealing the ever-increasing fundraising total posted on the tote board -- operated by hand in 1966 and now electronically.

We might never know what caused the split after so many years. We might never know why rumors swirled even after he was mysteriously axed as to why plans began for him to close the show with his trademark song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” -- and then suddenly scrapped again in recent days, as reported extensively by Senior Editor John Katsilometes.

Jerry has said he’ll only speak about the situation after the broadcast -- maybe a day later, maybe toward the end of the month, and I’m told, “Maybe never.”

Whatever the real story, it’s all a terrible shame.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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