Iconic comedian Jerry Lewis was remembered Sunday not only as a legendary performer, but also for raising billions of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association during his decades as the host of the organization’s annual Labor Day telethon.
“The Muscular Dystrophy Association is deeply saddened by the death of beloved comedian, performer, humanitarian and former MDA telethon star and national chairman Jerry Lewis,” R. Rodney Howell, the organization’s chairman of the board said Sunday, in a statement.
"The MDA would not be the organization it is today if it were not for Jerry’s tireless efforts on behalf of “his kids,” Howell added.
Over his 45 years as host of the annual Labor Day telethon, Lewis raised over $2 billion in dollars for research aimed at finding new treatments or even a cure for muscular dystrophy, the MDA has said.
In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious "Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award," which is given periodically by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for his work on behalf of the MDA.
“For most of my life I thought that doing good for someone didn’t mean you would receive commendation for that act of kindness,” Lewis said. “At least until now,” he added.
Lewis didn’t just raise money for the MDA, he also raised awareness of the disease, Howell said.
“Though we will miss him beyond measure, we suspect that somewhere in heaven, he’s already urging the angels to give ‘just one dollar more for my kids,' " said Howell, in the MDA’s statement.
The MDA went on to note that, during Lewis' lifetime, MDA-funded scientists discovered the causes of most of the diseases, developed treatments, therapies, and standards of care that have allowed many living with these diseases to live longer and grow stronger.
One notable turning point in understanding neuromuscular disease came in 1986 when Dr. Louis Kunkel, Ph.D., discovered the genetic defect that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Kunkel is a longtime MDA research grantee whose achievement, said Lewis, “was staggering.”
“To see this breakthrough tells me that indeed in my lifetime, I’m going to see ‘my kids’ better than they are today,” Lewis said at a press conference during the announcement of the discovery.
In September 2016, the Food and Drug Administraiton approved the first-ever drug for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. MDA has funded more than $1 billion in neuromuscular disease research since 1950, with three drugs approved in the last year, for Duchenne MD and spinal muscular dystrophy (SMA), spotlighting the organization's research program and the impact Lewis has had on MD research.
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