Jerry Lewis awarded humanitarian Oscar

Monday 23 February 2009 17:32

Jerry Lewis, whose success as a philanthropist relied on his ability to endure round-the-clock telethons, accepted his humanitarian award Sunday with a moment of graceful brevity.

In a heartfelt — and mercifully short — speech, Lewis profusely thanked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which presented him its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The award was presented to the 82-year-old actor by Eddie Murphy, who starred in a remake of one of Lewis' signature roles, "The Nutty Professor."

Lewis is perhaps now best-known for his annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association as an advocate of "Jerry's Kids."

Holding his hand over his heart, Lewis softly said, "Thank you" after Murphy handed him his Oscar statuette.

"For most of my life I thought that doing good for someone didn't mean you would receive commendation for that act of kindness," Lewis said. "At least until now.

"This award touches my heart and the very depth of my soul because of who the award is from, and those who will benefit."

The award is named after Hersholt, a Danish actor who co-founded the Motion Picture Relief Fund and served as an Academy president. The relief fund was established to help care for movie industry employees who couldn't pay for their own care.

Murphy also paid homage to Lewis' role as an actor, noting him as half of the comedic duo Martin and Lewis with Dean Martin.

"Jerry has had a huge influence on my career and the career of just about every other comic who's working in movies today," Murphy said.

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The muscular dystrophy telethon has been broadcast on Labor Day since 1966, although Lewis' fundraising efforts began in the 1950s.

"The impact of his humanitarian efforts on people with muscle-wasting diseases is beyond measure," Muscular Dystrophy Association President Gerald C. Weinberg said in a statement released earlier this month.

Lewis' award was not without controversy: A small group of protesters that an organizer estimated to be about 50 strong demonstrated outside the Academy Awards, saying Lewis' telethon is outdated and he forces people to pity those with muscular dystrophy.

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