Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 | 2:20 p.m.
What appeared to be the last and best chance for Jerry Lewis to participate in this weekend’s MDA Telethon is unraveling.
Musicians who had been hired to perform with Lewis on Thursday night for a video clip to be recorded at South Point were informed this morning that the session has been canceled.
A total of 33 players, many of them from Las Vegas, were to arrive at a ballroom at South Point at 7 p.m. Thursday and perform his telethon signature song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Plans were for the resulting video clip to be edited into Sunday’s telecast, which will be staged again at South Point.
But this morning, a source close to the production said that Los Angeles music contractor John Rosenberg, who had been charged by the MDA with assembling the orchestra, began informing musicians secured for the performance that the gig has been called off. There are no plans, at least at the moment, for an orchestra to back Lewis in a recorded performance or live from the South Point stage.
This year’s MDA Telethon airs live from South Point from 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday. The Las Vegas telecast airs on KTNV Channel 13.
No official confirmation has yet been furnished by the MDA, South Point or Lewis himself as to his current status for this year’s show.
Reached today by phone, Lewis spokeswoman Candi Cazau reiterated that Lewis would have nothing to say about the telethon or his role in the show until after Sunday’s telecast. She did say that, despite knowing that musicians had been hired to perform with Lewis at South Point, the legendary entertainer was never formally confirmed to participate in the session.
In his most recent public appearance Aug. 20 at Red Rock Resort, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nevada Broadcasters Association, Lewis was in lively spirits and did not mention the MDA or the telethon during his moving acceptance speech.
Today’s developments are just the latest twist in a saga where gaining verifiable information has been as difficult as capturing a vapor in a Diet Sunkist bottle (a nod to a beverage long favored by Lewis).
In October, a month after the 2010 show had ended, the MDA announced that it would cut the show from its original length of 21 ½ hours to six beginning with the 2011 broadcast. Left open was how, or even if, Lewis would be used, and it was evident the organization did not consult with Lewis before finalizing that decision.
In May, the MDA issued a lacking-in-ceremony news release announcing that Lewis would no longer host the show, but said he would sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as a way to say goodbye.
On Aug. 3, without warning or explanation, the MDA updated that information, saying Lewis would not be involved in the telecast. It also was announced that Lewis was ceding his position as the organization’s national chairman, a role he has held for five decades.
But on Aug. 20, the very day he was to receive his NBA Lifetime Achievement Award, word surfaced that Lewis was back in the show, as musicians were being summoned to back him in the since-canceled recorded performance at South Point.
Lewis, of course, has been the face and driving force of the MDA and its telethon for a half-century. He first hosted the national broadcast in 1966, and with Lewis supplying the star power (and a healthy measure of his time), the MDA has raised more than $2 billion to fight degenerative neuromuscular diseases. Lewis’ 1976 reunion with Dean Martin, a staggering event staged by Frank Sinatra at the Sahara, remains one of the great moments in TV history.
Lewis has most recently focused his philanthropic efforts on the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation Australia, which is not affiliated with the MDA.
As for this year’s show, barring any unforeseen developments (always a possibility in this continuing saga), it seems Lewis has already closed the show for the MDA with his wrenching rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at last year’s telethon. The MDA has announced that Sunday’s hosts will be Nancy O’Dell, Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl and Alison Sweeney. Celine Dion is reportedly appearing from Caesars Palace, and country music stars Darius Rucker, Lady Antebellum and Martina McBride have formally committed to the broadcast.
But the 2011 MDA Telethon might well be remembered not for who is onstage, but who is not.