Healthy Living

Jerry Lewis Remembered for his Role in Muscular Dystrophy Fundraising

Jerry Lewis Remembered for his Role in Muscular Dystrophy Fundraising

Jerry Lewis. Photo Source: Getty Images.

Comedian and entertainer, Jerry Lewis, died Sunday, August 20, 2017 at age 91. And one of the things he will be most remembered for is his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. While more than $2.5 billion were raised from 1966 to 2010 through the annual telethons that Lewis hosted, some of his words and actions towards those affected with the disease gained him some critics. Still, Lewis was praised for bringing awareness to the rare condition and supporting the muscular dystrophy community.

Career of Jerry Lewis

Lewis began his rise to fame in the 1940s after meeting Dean Martin, and the pair found quick success as a comedic duo. In 1956, Lewis went solo and eventually made a name for himself as a comedian, actor, writer, director and even an inventor. (Lewis is credited with creating a system to allow film directors to immediately review their work on set of a shoot, which is called the video assist and still used today.)

Between 1949 and 2016, Lewis appeared in more than 60 films, a handful of which he also wrote, directed and/or produced. On top of this, he made appearances in dozens of television shows, some commercials, and more. Additionally, Lewis was a singer and songwriter.

With all of his fame, Lewis took to activism and became heavily involved in fundraising for muscular dystrophy. He started hosting telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association from 1952 to 1959, and from 1966 to 2010, Lewis hosted a yearly Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon each Labor Day weekend. In this time, he helped raise nearly $2.6 billion for muscular dystrophy research. Lewis served as chairman and spokesman for the organization until 2011.

Muscular Dystrophy Association Praises Lewis for Contribution

Current chairman of the MDA board, Rodney Howell, said in a statement, "MDA would not be the organization it is today if it were not for Jerry's tireless efforts on behalf of 'his kids.' His enthusiasm for finding cures for neuromuscular disease was matched only by his unyielding commitment to see the fight through to the end. Jerry's love, passion and brilliance are woven throughout this organization, which he helped build from the ground up."

The telethons included entertaining musical acts and comedy skits, as well as celebrity guests and surprises. Of course, there were plenty of donation pitches and sentimental dialogues as well.

At times, Lewis received criticism from people claiming he exploited children with muscular dystrophy, using them for charity and to gain pity. However, Lewis did not let this stop him from hosting the telethon. Rather than focusing on his critics, Lewis remembered the 135,000 people with the condition who called him their hero.

When asked why he hosted the telethons for muscular dystrophy and why he was so involved with the association, Lewis simply said he did it for personal and private reasons.

A spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Bob Mackle, previously said, "The telethons have heightened public awareness, not only for MDA victims, but other disabilities as well. Before the telethons, people with disabilities weren't seen on television. Children were not allowed in schools, disabled persons were shunned. The telethons changed that by humanizing the victims."


On the other hand, some people felt  very offended by some of Lewis's statements about people with disabilities. They did not appreciate him referring to them as "crippled", "confined" or cursed. In fact, Lewis apologized for his words and assured that he meant no harm.

Love him or loathe him, it can't be denied that Lewis raised billions of dollars for muscular dystrophy. There are a number of organizations for muscular dystrophy that you can learn about below.

More about Muscular Dystrophy Awareness

The most notable organization linked to muscular dystrophy is undoubtedly the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Founded in 1950 in New York, they are dedicated to discovering and working toward research breakthroughs, care, and support for people with muscular dystrophy and their families. Currently, the MDA is funding about 150 research projects worldwide, has committed a total of more than $16 million, and has contributed to many clinical trials. At MDA Care Centers across the US and Puerto Rico, care is provided to hundreds of thousands of individuals. Last year, the MDA also provided Summer Camp for children at zero cost to their families. Their mission is to “free individuals and the families who love them from the harm of muscular dystrophy, ALS, and related diseases that take away physical strength, independence, and life. Together with [their] supporters, [they’re] helping kids and adults live longer and grow stronger.”

Currently, the Muscular Dystrophy Association accepts donations for research funding, and they also accept volunteer contributions at their local offices, summer camps, and fundraising events.

Another organization, one that devotes its time solely to Duchenne muscular dystrophy is CureDuchenne. They work toward drug development, research funding, and community support. They support research programs that strive to not only treat, but aim to cure Duchenne muscular dystrophy. As of now, CureDuchenne has made outstanding accomplishments in clinical research. Nine of their research projects have moved forward to human clinical trials. They are certainly making strides for the future of Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients and their families. They allow people to create personal fundraising pages to host donations and track funds. In this way, CareDuchenne easily allows people to make a difference.

Another charity that makes a difference, but in other ways, is the Muscle Help Foundation. They are UK-based, and dedicated to “help fulfil the cherished dreams of children and young people with the muscle wasting disease, Muscular Dystrophy (MD) and allied neuromuscular conditions.” Fulfilled Muscle Dreams include uniting children and young adults with their heroes, whether they be sports icons, television hosts, celebrity chefs, and many more. To receive a Muscle Dream, you must live in the UK and be between the ages of 8 and 28. The Muscle Warriors help make Muscle Dreams possible. They sponsor either financially or through volunteer work to make nominees’ dreams come true.

All of the abovementioned charities accept donations in many forms, including event participation, making it easy for just about anybody to make a difference. Other muscular dystrophy organizations dedicated to research and treatment include Muscular Dystrophy UK, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation, and many more.