Comedian, singer and humanitarian Jerry Lewis died Sunday at his Las Vegas home at the age of 91.
Lewis was known not only for his comedy partnership with Dean Martin and for films like “The Nutty Professor,” but also for his advocacy work raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon ran each year from 1966 to 2014.
On radio Monday, Glenn reminisced on Lewis’ famous annual telethon, which raised around $2.6 billion during its run.
“If you’re my age at all, you grew up with Labor Day weekend being the Jerry Lewis telethon,” Glenn remembered. “You’d stay up really late, your mom would yell at you [to] ‘turn off the TV,’ but you wanted to watch it.”
Lewis and Martin were an incredibly popular comedy team until their final nightclub appearance together in 1956. During that decade, the pair made the most of their contrasts, with smooth, sultry-voiced Martin playing the straight man to Lewis’ pratfalls. In 1976, Lewis and Martin reconciled after Frank Sinatra brought Martin onstage as a surprise at that year’s MDA telethon.
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GLENN: So Jerry Lewis passed away over the weekend, which is tragically sad. If you’re my age at all, you grew up with Labor Day Weekend being the Jerry Lewis telethon.
GLENN: I remember Labor Day Weekend, all I wanted to do as a kid was watch the Jerry Lewis telethon, all weekend long. You would stay up really late. Your mom would yell at you, “Turn off the TV.” But you wanted to watch it. We would all rush to the TV on that — what was it?
Did it end on Monday? I think. And you would look at the total.
PAT: And he would cry when the numbers came up.
JEFFY: Yeah. You would call in a bunch of money and say you’re going to donate a bunch of money, so you would watch the toke bowl roll over, but you knew you were never going to give it. You’d do that all Labor Day Weekend. Did you used to do that?
JEFFY: Okay. Never mind.
You know he raised $2 billion? Two billion for —
JEFFY: He was great. Come on.
PAT: — muscular dystrophy.
GLENN: Really sad character. Really a sad character. I think he was — I think he was emotionally spent at the end of his life. Maybe, you know, towards the beginning of his life. He was really, really, really funny, but in so much pain because of his back. He used to do pratfalls. I can’t remember. He gave a number of how many pratfalls he figured he had done, without even thinking. And he said, “You just can’t — you just can’t fall like that over and over and over again without hurting your back.” And destroyed his back. And was in so much pain. Several times, came close to suicide.
PAT: I think he eventually — he had an implant or something put in there.
PAT: That helped him.
GLENN: He was one of the first ones to have the electric implant that would shock it back into your body. You know, give yourself enough electric shocks. I guess the theory was, you won’t feel that anymore.
PAT: And everybody remembers that legendary time when he and Dean Martin were reunited in 1976 on the telethon by Frank Sinatra. They hadn’t seen each other or spoken in 20 years.
GLENN: Why is that? Did they have a falling out?
JEFFY: Oh, yeah.
PAT: Oh, big time. Yeah, big time falling out.
GLENN: Oh, I don’t remember that.
PAT: Yeah, a little jealousy. Gets in the way of nice partnerships sometimes.
GLENN: Really sad.
GLENN: Jerry Lewis, passing away this weekend, just a few weeks away from Labor Day, which was his telethon weekend.