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May 19, 2022

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In two swift paragraphs, Jerry Lewis’ run as MDA chairman and telethon host ends

Jerry Lewis

Terry King

Jerry Lewis, shown during an interview on his yacht in San Diego in October 2010.

MDA Telethon Day 1 - Sunday at South Point

Opera singer Niko performs with a choir during the 45th Annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon Sunday night at the South Point.  This year's telethon hopes to raise $70 million to surpass 2009's earnings of $60 million in the fight against muscular dystrophy. Launch slideshow »

MDA Telethon - Day 2

As the celebration confetti lies on the floor, Jerry Lewis breaks down in joyous tears after hearing the final tally of $58,919,838 Monday afternoon in the final hour of the 45th Annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. Launch slideshow »

In May, the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced that it would cut its telethon back to six hours and that the show's legendary host, Jerry Lewis, would make a final appearance to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" as a proper sendoff.

Well, all that changed radically this afternoon.

In a two-paragraph news release, the MDA effectively ended Lewis' five-decade affiliation with the organization. In full, it read:

"The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) announces that today Jerry Lewis has completed his run as its national chairman. In May, Lewis and MDA announced his retirement as host of the MDA Labor Day Telethon.

"MDA Chairman of the Board of Directors, R. Rodney Howell, M.D., said, '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."

A spokesman for Lewis offered "no comment" when asked if Lewis had anything to say about the announcement, specifically if this decision was Lewis' or the MDA's. Quoted in a story in the current issue of GQ, the iconic comic actor, stage performer, filmmaker and philanthropist reiterated his commitment to the MDA cause, saying, "“I understand naysayers. His kids. But they are mine, and I am too far into it to step back.”

Back in May, Lewis was quoted in an MDA news release as saying, "As a labor of love, I've hosted the annual Telethon since 1966, and I'll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' I'll continue to serve MDA as its national Chairman, as I've done since the early 1950s. I'll never desert MDA and my kids."

Lewis' departure from the telethon has raised questions about the show's future in Las Vegas, where since 2006 it has been held at South Point. The arrangement to hold the show at South Point was forged between Lewis and his longtime friend, South Point owner Michael Gaughan. This year's show is set to be held again at the hotel, but there is no formal commitment for the show to be at South Point, or anywhere in Las Vegas, beyond this year.

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