If you were looking forward to joining the rest of the nation in giving a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to Jerry Lewis during the 2011 Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, prepare to be disappointed.
The organization that has partnered with Lewis for more than 45 years on the event, announced Aug. 3 that the comedian would be stepping down immediately as its national chairman. This contradicts a May 2011 release from MDA in which Lewis stated that he would continue as chairman after his final telethon this September. Now it appears that he won't even get to do that.
“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, the organization said in a release. "We will not be replacing him as MDA national chairman, and he will not be appearing on the telethon.”
Whoa — what? So that's it? After more than four decades and $2.45 billion raised, that's how you drop the news that your celebrated host will not be returning for one more run?
It's rather puzzling — and some have pointed to the very real possibility that Lewis' health is in decline and is a contributing factor in the decision. In late June, while on a fundraising comedy tour for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation Australia, the entertainer canceled a sold-out show and was hospitalized, with reps saying only that he wasn't "well enough to take the stage."
CBS News also reported that Lewis has suffered in later years from "debilitating back condition, heart issues and pulmonary fibrosis."
Adding to the cryptic nature of the whole thing are comments Lewis made last week to TV critics at their summer press tour in Beverly Hills. When asked about his future involvement with the telethon — something he said in May would include a performance of his signature song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone" — the 85-year-old simply answered, "It's none of your business."
After backtracking a bit, Lewis added: "September the fifth, the day after that program, I will have an international press conference with press from Reuters and London and China and Taiwan and all over the world, and I will have plenty to say about what I think is important. And that’s the future, not the past."
... and the plot thickens.
This year's telethon is scheduled for Sept. 4 and will reportedly last six hours during prime-time programming. To learn more about the Muscular Dystrophy Association, please visit the official site here.