In the face of official denials and widespread confusion about Jerry Lewis’ role in this year’s Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon, sources close to the show are saying that an orchestra is being assembled to perform with the entertainment legend as part of a recorded appearance in the annual fundraising showcase.
Plans are for Lewis to sing his signature show-closing number “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with a 33-piece orchestra as part of a final send-off for the man who has hosted the national telethon since 1966. In that span, Lewis has led a fundraising effort that has amassed more than $2 billion for the MDA. The new, streamlined show airs from 6 p.m. to midnight on Sept. 4, with the South Point serving as its headquarters.
The last formal announcement from the MDA about Lewis’ role in the telethon was a news release posted on the organization’s Web site Aug. 3, in which it was announced that he would not be participating in the show and was vacating his position as MDA’s national chairman. But on Saturday, as Lewis was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nevada Broadcasters Association at Red Rock Resort, word surfaced that Lewis would indeed take part in the scaled-back telethon.
The next day, Lewis publicist Candi Cazau said there was no plan for Lewis to participate in the show and reached Monday night repeated that there was no word from Lewis indicating that he was scheduled to appear. The MDA has not clarified what role, if any, Lewis would play in the new-look telethon. But several musicians from Las Vegas production shows are being hired to supplement the orchestra playing behind Lewis for his one-song finale.
Since May, when it was announced that the telethon would be cut from 21½ hours to 6, Lewis has not spoken publicly about his involvement in the MDA or any of the issues surrounding his departure from the telecast. Initially, the MDA said Lewis would indeed sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to close out his peerless philanthropic career with the organization. Then the organization reversed field, announcing Aug. 3 that Lewis would no longer serve as its national chairman and would play no part in the upcoming telethon.
Back in May, Lewis was quoted by the MDA as saying, “As a labor of love, I've hosted the annual telethon since 1966, and I'll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' I'll continue to serve MDA as its national chairman, as I've done since the early 1950s. I'll never desert MDA and my kids.”