Jerry Does It Again!

by Kathy Wechsler on November 1, 2008 - 9:59am

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 6

Comic legend and MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis once again led the MDA Labor Day Telethon to a new record, raising $65,031,393 to beat last year’s total by $1.2 million. The Telethon star expressed humility and gratitude — but not surprise — at the American public’s generosity, especially in the face of economic uncertainty and the threat of Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast.

Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe

For the third year, the 21½-hour event originated from the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas. The 43rd annual show was broadcast to tens of millions of viewers by some 180 television stations in MDA’s “Love Network.” Millions more worldwide watched online via streaming video, thanks to RealNetworks.

Telethon contributions support MDA programs such as research into more than 40 muscle diseases; a nationwide clinic network; accessible summer camp; financial assistance to those needing wheelchairs, leg braces and communication devices; and MDA health information publications, including Quest magazine.

On with the show

Making his 42nd appearance as Telethon anchor, Ed McMahon was joined by a talented group of co-hosts: Tom Bergeron, of “Dancing with the Stars” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; Jann Carl of “Entertainment Tonight”; veteran funnyman Norm Crosby; Nancy O’Dell of “Access Hollywood”; and Alison Sweeney of “Days of Our Lives” and “The Biggest Loser.”

Jann Carl, Nancy O'Dell and Jerry Lewis

Ace Young, “American Idol” finalist and MDA Celebrity Ambassador, served as a first-time Telethon co-host and performed songs from his new CD, “Ace Young.” Award-winning recording artist Billy Gilman, who serves as MDA’s National Youth Chairman, returned for the sixth year as a Telethon co-host and gave several outstanding vocal performances, including a delightful duet with MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Abbey Umali, 9.

During the show, Lewis asked Abbey to return as MDA National Goodwill Ambassador for 2009, an honor which she graciously accepted.

Tom Bergeron and Alison Sweeney

Other remarkable youngsters making live appearances on the show with their families included: Joe Akmakjian, 17, of Fort Collins, Colo., who has spinal muscular atrophy; Tyler Parson, 15, of Whiteland, Ind., who has Friedreich’s ataxia; and 9-year-old twins Brett and Jacob Rhoad of Chapin, S.C., who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

Elron Davis, 32, of Columbia, S.C., who has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, also appeared on the national broadcast, as did MDA ALS Division co-chairs Augie and Lynne Nieto. The Nietos presented Jerry with a check for more than $3.8 million for ALS research, which was raised by MDA’s Augie’s Quest initiative.

Luke Christie of Due West, S.C., joined the national show by remote from the site of Harley-Davidson’s 105th birthday celebration in Milwaukee. Christie, 15, who has spinal muscular atrophy, is the 2008 MDA Harley-Davidson Goodwill Ambassador.

Shining stars

Terry Fator and friend

The Telethon’s entertainment extravaganza included 3 Doors Down, Bo Bice, Celine Dion, the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, Gloria Gaynor, Jack Jones, Jack Savoretti, John Ondrasik, John Pinette, Kid Rock, Lance Burton, Maureen McGovern, Menudo, Starship, Sugarland, Terry Fator, Tony Orlando and Tracy Lawrence. R&B singer Will Downing, who has polymyositis, and country singers Calvin Ray Johnson of Mount Washington, Ky., (DMD), and Bradley Walker of Athens, Ala., (nemaline myopathy), were among the audience favorites.

In addition to entertainment, information and profiles, the Telethon featured an array of sponsors presenting checks from their fundraising efforts over the past year. Topping the list was the International Association of Fire Fighters, which raised a whopping $27.5 million for MDA.

Other MDA sponsors presenting checks included A&P Grocery Stores, ACOSTA Sales & Marketing; Burger King; CITGO Petroleum; ClubCorp; Convenience Store Industry; DECA (an association of marketing students); Dr Pepper Snapple Group; ERA Real Estate; Harley-Davidson; Kappa Alpha; Lowe’s; National Association of Letter Carriers; OSI/Outback Steakhouse; RealNetworks; Safeway; 7-Eleven; SUPERVALU/ Albertsons; Tall Cedars; and Universal Cheerleaders.

As always, Jerry Lewis ended the marathon event by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” From the donated talents and fundraising efforts of hundreds of thousands of individuals, to the generosity of a legion of donors who fulfilled Jerry’s wish to raise “one dollar more” than last year, it’s clear that he was right.

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