Jerry Lewis was best known as an actor, director, and comedian, but his philanthropy should not be forgotten. As a chairperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he hosted annual telethons and raised a considerable amount of money for the charity. In 1977, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, proving that Lewis' activism is a huge part of the star's life work, and it's important to acknowledge his efforts. The star first began working with the MDA in 1966, and hosted their Labor Day weekend telethon every year until 2010. According to the New York Times, he raised about $2 billion dollars during his 40 years hosting the event. It was a cause that he committed himself to for decades, and his contribution to the organization and its efforts to fight the neuromuscular disease were admirable.
Lewis passed away from natural causes at home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday morning. He was 91 years old, and will be remembered foremost as a prolific entertainer. His comic partnership with Dean Martin is one of the most recognizable in the history of show business, and their work found success on the radio, television, and in theaters and comedy clubs around the country. His solo work is equally iconic, and he wrote, directed, and starred in films like The Nutty Professor and The Bellboy. His dual-role in these comedic works, as well as his physical comedy style, is enormously influential on contemporary creators from Mel Brooks to Jim Carrey. While his comedic and creative legacy will certainly last, his tenure with the MDA and his philanthropic ventures should have just as much role in his retrospective.
In addition to his Nobel Peace Prize nomination, Lewis received a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It was one of many lifetime achievement awards that the star was honored with, especially during his late adult life. When he left the MDA in 2010, he was brought back on as a guest during the telethon the year after, but without Lewis on board, the organization ceased the telethon as a fundraising method. It still amounted to an entire generations worth of fundraising, and it would be difficult to think of a star who stood with a cause so faithfully over so many years.
Celebrities offered tributes to the creator on social media, and in addition to his influence on the industry, many acknowledged his work fighting muscular industry and the impact of his charitable efforts. Ellen Degeneres made note of his philanthropy, Dane Cook called him a "charitable person:", and Whoopi Goldberg emphasized how many people with muscular dystrophy were helped by his ongoing fundraising efforts. Lewis' dedicated a considerable mount of time to charity throughout his lifetime, and it is a fundamental part of his legacy.
Lewis an influential as a comedian, but his philanthropic work made just as much of an impact on those who followed his work and career. He devoted himself to the Muscular Dystrophy Association's cause with passion, and his contribution to the annual telethon and ongoing support for fighting the disease should not be overlooked. While it's evident that Lewis was a comedic force, he somewhat quietly proved that he was a charitable one as well, and for both he will be missed.