For all his accomplishments as an entertainer, Jerry Lewis, who died Sunday at the age of 91, is best known to many Americans as the host of his eponymous Labor Day telethon to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Beginning in 1966, Lewis would host the telecast that lasted up to 21-and-a-half hours, with audiences phoning in donations that ultimately totaled more than $2 billion by the time Lewis and MDA parted company — rather unceremoniously, sadly — in 2011.
Making life better for his “Jerry’s Kids” was his life-long passion, and the telethons were true marathons, with the host ad-libbing with special guests from hour to hour. Sometimes, you weren’t sure he was going to make it through to the end, when he would close the show with a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel.
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The 2010 telethon turned out to be his last, though Lewis most likely did not know it at the time. But his sign-off at that year’s show proved a fitting farewell. The then 84-year-old was especially emotional, thanking his family and lighting up when he reflected upon the joy his telethon brings to children struggling with MD. Then he launched into his tune for the 59th (he began singing the Broadway showtune at MDA events even before he launched his telethon) and final time.
It would’ve been difficult to imagine an encore.