The telethon was a relic from a different age, a tuxedoed Lewis oozing show biz schmaltz and hosting stars from Frank Sinatra to Jennifer Lopez over 45 years, pushing through his exhaustion to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as a tote board rang up millions of dollars in donations.
From 21 and a half hours in Lewis’ final year, the show had been reduced to two hours the last two years on ABC.
“It’s not a 21-hour world anymore,” said Steve Ford, MDA executive vice president, on Friday.
With television time costly, the MDA’s fundraising efforts will move primarily online, he said. The success of a viral event like “The Ice Bucket Challenge” proves this is a potent area for philanthropy, he said.
“The real heroes have always been our families, and what we need to do is make sure that every dollar we raise is spent working for our families,” he said.
The Labor Day tote board hit a record of $65 million in 2008, a figure Ford said reflected a full year’s worth of fundraising activities capped off by the telethon. The MDA says the telethon itself has been responsible for more than $2 billion in giving.
Lewis’ abrupt exit, announced by the MDA a month before the 2011 telethon, was never fully explained.
The 89-year-old comedian declined to comment on Friday’s announcement, a spokeswoman said.
His history with the charity goes back nearly to its beginning: the MDA was started in 1950 and, a year later, Lewis and his comic partner Dean Martin mentioned the charity on their NBC show. The two comics hosted a 1956 telethon before breaking up. Lewis began hosting it regularly in 1966, starting on a single television station in New York.
The telethon was not without controversy; in the early 1990s it was picketed by a handful of disabled people who said people with the disease were being made objects of pity by Lewis to raise money.
Yet his roster through the years represented a who’s who of entertainment, including a post-Beatles John Lennon, Michael Jackson singing with and without his brothers, Liberace, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Celine Dion. Former Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon filled the same role with Lewis on Labor Day for many years.
In 1976, Sinatra engineered a reunion of Lewis with Martin, his estranged former partner.
With years of telethon tapes, the MDA has the equivalent of years of show biz gold in its vaults. Ford said the MDA has been discussing with Lewis ways to release some of this archived material.
Yes, Mayweather is indeed the greatest fighter of this generation, proving so Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena by masterfully outboxing Manny Pacquiao over 12 rounds to prevail via unanimous decision in the so-called “Fight of the Century.”
Judge Dave Moretti scored it 118-110, while Burt Clements and Glenn Feldman had it 116-112.
The bout between two of the greatest fighters of all time was in play since late 2009 and was originally being discussed for a March 2010 date. Mayweather had just ended a brief retirement with a shutout victory over Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel Marquez that September. Pacquiao responded two months later with one of the biggest victories of his career, a stoppage of Miguel Cotto.
It was a rarity – the recognized pound-for-pound best fighters in the world competing in the same weight class while in their primes. However, the proposed matchup fell apart at the negotiating table after Pacquiao refused to undergo Olympic-style drug testing, scuttling the super fight.
After that, there was always talk of the pair coming together for the big fight but it never came to fruition. Many reasons were given: the split of purses, drug-testing procedures, who would be the A-side, location, date, etc. And, of course, matters became much more complicated when Mayweather fled HBO for rival network Showtime in 2013.
The event is expected to shatter every revenue and pay-per-view buy rate record, with upward of $300 million and 3 million buys in play. The event cost a record $99.99 in high definition and ringside tickets were sold for $10,000, although none of those seats were open to the public.
Mayweather, who prides himself on his undefeated record, said in the lead-up he plans to fight in September and call it a career. He has one fight remaining on his six-bout deal with Showtime.