Jerry Lewis has personified the fight against neuromuscular diseases since 1951.
As National Chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), he is a leader who battles with fierce determination on behalf of the more than a million Americans affected by these disorders.
And to his millions of fans, he is not only an admired actor, comedian, director, producer and teacher, but a humanitarian striving to provide "his kids" a better future.
Jerry's determined effort to raise funds for MDA's worldwide research program are turning that hope of a better future into reality. MDA-backed investigators identified the genetic cause of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (the most common and fatal childhood form) in 1986 and 1987.
Building on that breakthrough, MDA has discovered the specific causes of most genetic neuromuscular disorders, including other forms of muscular dystrophy, the familial form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease), the spinal muscular atrophies (a form of which is the leading genetic cause of infant death) and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (the most common type of neuromuscular disorder).
MDA researchers expect to begin the first human trials of gene therapy to deliver a properly functioning version of one of the genes that, when defective, causes a form of muscular dystrophy. Also, the Association played a vital role in development of Rilutek, the first drug ever to receive FDA approval as treatment for ALS.
MDA's Number One Volunteer
Jerry has won the admiration and respect of millions for his unstinting dedication to MDA's goals. For more than four decades he's served as volunteer National Chairman of the health agency - which seeks treatments and cures for 40 neuromuscular diseases.
Jerry is the most effective fund-raiser in television history. In 1956, he and Dean Martin hosted a Telethon for MDA that raised $600,000. In 1957 and 1959, Jerry led MDA Telethon efforts that together raised $1,240,000 more for "his kids."
Jerry's Labor Day Telethon was initiated in 1966, and the star-studded event has raised $1,606,790,210 ($1.6 billion) to advance MDA's lifesaving mission. The 1999 Telethon raised a record $53.1 million in pledges and contributions and reached a television audience of some 70 million viewers. The show also was seen worldwide as the first live, multilingual programming (English, Spanish, Japanese) on the Internet.
Preparations for each Telethon begin an hour or so after the last one has ended, Jerry says. "People think I show up only on Labor Day - that's hysterical.”
Jerry spends a good part of the year helping to plan each Telethon - not to mention working intensively with MDA's national sponsors and expanding and improving the "Love Network" some 200 TV stations that carry the Telethon and constitute the largest independent network in broadcasting history. All this is in addition to appearances on behalf of MDA at business conventions and before civic, fraternal and youth groups, and meetings of MDA's Board of Directors.
There probably has not been a single day in the last 45 years on which Jerry has not met, worked for,phoned or just talked about youngsters and adults living with neuromuscular diseases and MDA's effort in their behalf. He writes many of those served by MDA and visits them when he is in their areas.
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