Remembering Jerry Lewis’s MDA Telethon
KJ Mullins: Today there will be a Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon raising money for research and those who are affected by the many muscular diseases that fall under its umbrella. Jerry Lewis will be present despite earlier reports.
I grew up watching the MDA Telethon and Jerry Lewis. There are countless empty tissue boxes from those day long events as the stories of ‘Jerry’s Kids’ were aired. Those stories motivated other kids to do something to help out. Jerry Lewis was able to get the message about his kids out while entertaining the masses. His vision raised the funds that allowed scientists to come closer to a cure every year.
When I was very young the neighbourhood kids in my Ohio birthplace would have carnivals for Jerry’s Kids. The only time I had stitches as a child was at one of those carnivals.
Those stories motivated me to get off of my bum and do something at the age of 7.
My neighbours all knew it was Labour Day Weekend when on Friday I would walk for miles knocking on doors with an old cigar box collecting money for Jerry’s Kids. The first year I collected just over $100. The last year I walked the streets of our suburb at the age of 11 I collected almost $700. When I had finished collecting the money, rolling up the coins and putting the bills into order my daddy would drive me to the Atlanta television station that was hosting the telethon so that I could deliver the money.
I didn’t know it at the time but our family would benefit from all the other little kids that walked their streets with the goal of helping Jerry’s Kids. My grandfather was diagnosed with ALS when I was 13. The disease slowly took away the use of his arms, legs, lungs. It was discovered during that time that his sister also had died from the same condition that robbed him of his golden years. For some with Muscular Dystrophies it’s a family thing. He died peacefully one night when I was 16.
My grandfather was not alone. He had MDA there to support him and my grandmother through those three years. When he needed new equipment to live easier it was there.
Decades later my oldest son walked along the hills when we lived for a time in West Virginia for Jerry’s Kids raising over $200. Proudly I took him to the television station to hand over his take for the day.
This was to be his last year, after all Jerry Lewis is 85 and in ill health. MDA officials said more than $1 billion has been raised during Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons. He was booted from the telethon in May with no real explanation.
I have watched the Telethon for over forty years. I wasn’t going to watch this weekend. Lewis has never said why he championed his kids, always saying that when the cure came he would reveal the reasons why he sang each year that his kids would never walk alone. Jerry Lewis will stand up for his kids one last time. Let’s hope that this is the year that the cure is found.