The 46th edition of the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon wasted no time in offering a tribute to its longtime host, Jerry Lewis, and potentially diffusing any backlash or disappointment with his absence.
A dance performance opened the MDA Labor Day Telethon 2011 and then, Jerry Lewis‘ replacements — Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O’Dell — took the stage and immediately took turns talking about the comedian’s five-decade commitment to raising money for a cure.
Huge images of Jerry Lewis at various stages of his career served as a backdrop on stage as the 2011 MDA Telethon hosts talked.
Last May, Jerry Lewis, who had hosted the telethon since 1966, announced he was retiring as MDA chairman and that this year’s Labor Day weekend telethon would be his last. But the MDA subsequently — and rather tersely and unceremoniously — said Lewis would not host this year’s show.
The new MDA Telethon hosts talked alluded to how Jerry Lewis had “retired.”
Jerry Lewis’ publicist Candi Cazau declined to comment to the AP when told of the comments to start Sunday night’s program.
Muscular Dystrophy Association spokesman, Jim Brown refused to say anything elaborate on the hosts’ words, but said the telethon would include at least one more nod to Jerry Lewis.
Nancy O’Dell talked about how MDA was there for her and her family while her mother was dying of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease).
“And, boy, did Jerry’s closing song, <<You’ll Never Walk Alone>>, hit home the year that my mom passed away,” she said.
Nigel Lythgoe talked about how Jerry Lewis was irreplaceable.
“What you have done for this organization and its families is something close to a miracle,” he said. “And I know that we all want to carry on your legacy. We’re going to try and, with a humble heart, and occasionally a good laugh — because you taught us, above all, that laughter can cure almost anything — I trust we will continue to be successful.”
Then, the show and the fundraising continued.