Posted at 02:40 AM ET, 05/17/2011

Jerry Lewis retires: A look back at memorable MDA telethon moments


Jerry Lewis at the 2008 MDA telethon. (Steve Marcus - AP)
Comedian Jerry Lewis has announced he’s ending his 45-year run as host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, saying it’s “time for an all new telethon era.”

“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,’” Lewis said.

In an effort to boost viewership and income, this year’s telethon will be shortened to six hours — rather than the normal 21 and a half — and is scheduled for Sept. 4.

The annual telethons have raised more than $1 billion under the care of Lewis, 85, according to the AP. The comedian, who has been suffering from a back condition, said he’ll stay on as national MDA chairman.

During Lewis’s 45 years as host, the telethon has produced some memorable moments with celebrity guests. Here is a look back at a few:

Frank Sinatra reunites Lewis and Dean Martin - 1976 telethon

Lewis and Martin, who’d found success as a comedy duo, split in 1956 on bitter terms. Sinatra surprised Lewis by orchestrating a reunion two decades later.

“I think it’s about time, don’t you?” Sinatra asks the pair, as Lewis dabs at his eyes.

In a 2005 interview with the Associated Press, Lewis described that moment of seeing Martin after years of unease: “You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in mine. When he walked toward me all I thought was ‘Dear God, give me something to say.’ So I looked at him and asked ‘Are you working?’ That got a laugh.”

John Lennon - 1972 telethon

The icon played “Imagine” in support of the telethon two years after the Beatles split.

The Jackson Five - 1974 telethon

The group performed “Dancing Machine,” with the requisite footwork to go along with it.

Menudo, including a young Ricky Martin - mid- to late 1980s

Martin, dressed in teal, was a member of the ever-evolving Latin boy band when they performed “Like a Cannonball” on the telethon.

Kermit the Frog and Calvin Ray Johnson - 2001 telethon

The famous frog took the stage with Johnson, a country singer who has muscular dystrophy and was a frequent guest on the telethon.

But arguably, the most memorable portion of each MDA telethon isn’t the celebrity appearances, but instead Lewis’s signature performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

From an early telethon

2008 telethon

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has posted these and dozens of other clips on its YouTube page.

Share your memories: What are some of your favorite moments involving Jerry Lewis and his beloved MDA telethon? Tell us in the comments.

More coverage:

Jerry Lewis to retire as MDA telethon host

Photo gallery: A look back at the MDA telethon

By Emily Ingram  |  02:40 AM ET, 05/17/2011

 
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